To proclaim afresh . . .
WHEN you have attended a legal ritual as arcane as the confirmation of the
election of a bishop, your taste for lesser things is for ever ruined; but I
can still recall that enchanted moment of first hearing in a parish church the
Declaration of Assent, and the oaths of allegiance and canonical obedience.
The palpitations wear off, like those teenage fantasies of levying a
voluntary church rate or repelling an open and notorious evil liver; but
attending a licensing last week has reminded me what a potent thing the
Declaration of Assent still is, with its tribal invocation of our Church of
This became clear in a debate on the Ordinal in the Synod last month. After
a day of women bishops, the press gallery was almost empty. But there was the
faint chance of a jolly speech about the Nag’s Head fable, as Evangelical
members warmed up on the place of the Bible in Anglican ordinations. And real
passion also seemed to be banked up behind a discussion about the place of the
Declaration of Assent.
I’m sure that curates used to appear as if by magic, like the shopkeeper in
Mr Benn. But last week’s licensing involved even more interrogation
than a Common Worship confirmation service. Our man kneeling before
the Bishop would, I felt convinced, be as happy among the Thirty-Nine Articles
as among the sausage rolls afterwards; and it was not for me to wonder whether
he could subscribe to either of these delights ex animo.
Nor did he have to. Since 1975, the wording of the Declaration means that
the clergy have been able to sit light to 1662 and the Articles; which is why
all the passion in the Synod could seem ever so slightly misplaced.
So I went back to Ian Ramsey’s On Being Sure in Religion, his 1961
F. D. Maurice lectures, in which he asked what subscription, if taken
seriously, meant. And his conclusion was that it “commits us to one thing only
— perpetual development”.
That may not be the theological principle that current enthusiasts for these
declarations have in mind.
’Verting to Rome
THE EDITOR of the traditionalist magazine New Directions and her
husband are becoming Roman Catholics. When the Church Times still had
the waspish tone that New Directions has emulated, we might well have
described them, I’m afraid, as “perverting” to Rome — if not to the “Italian
But we have not so learned Christ; and, to be honest, which of us knows
where we ourselves will end up, as a would-be mission-shaped Church mutates
according to the unknown demographic of future Synods? A Church-shaped Church
would be nice, I often think.
Sara Low and her Revd husband Robbie join a string of characters in the
national life of the C of E who might be thought to have found some expressions
of Anglicanism ultimately a bit too “fresh”. But it doesn’t sound as if they
are looking for a quiet life. Mrs Low writes in her farewell issue: “We must
serve where we are called but the battle for orthodoxy goes on.”
Our caustic contemporary will have a new editor, Canon Nicholas Turner,
currently the reviews editor. We can wish him, as we wish the Lows, only well.
Hitting press deadlines can be tricky enough even when you are just a
journalist — not a parish priest whose congregations will know what a priest is
Drawing on experience
ON THE EVE of ordination, not many candidates are practising their future
phone manner, or thinking about reminding bridegrooms to do a right-wheel when
the wedding ceremony is over.
Not yet, perhaps; but Canon Paul Goddard has written Deacons and Dog
Collars: A guide for those about to be ordained*. With its witty
cartoons by Glynn Evans, it could settle last-minute nerves on ordination
retreats, by helping the candidates to see the lighter side of the life they
are about to begin.
The author has so many stories to tell that in the end they run away with
him; and some are taller than others. I wondered about the funeral where the
Brother Buffaloes kept stepping on the button in the crematorium floor, so that
the coffin went continually up and down; and the curate who was reassured by
the undertaker that his first funeral had been the “crème de la crème”.
But the Canon was our witness when the female undertaker put a pile of
sandwiches under her picture hat before returning from Golders Green. And he
was there, too, when the first lesson at matins, in the presence of the young
Princess Margaret, was one from the Song of Solomon about the prince’s daughter
“whose breasts are like two young fauns”, and whose thighs — well, whatever
they were, they turned the Vicar crimson.
A cautionary tale that could happen anywhere is the one about the wedding at
Harvest-tide. How one pities the poor bride, in all her finery, who knelt on a
*from the author, 56 West Street, Polruan-by-Fowey, Cornwall PL23 1PL;
A FRIEND sends, from a church noticeboard: “Ash Wednesday: 7.30 pm Sung Mass
and Exposition of the Ashes.” A worshipfest for lovers of cricket, she
And, from a kind neighbour, I hear that a line of “Forty days and forty
nights” was misprinted in a parish service-sheet this Lent as “Prowling breasts
about thy way”.