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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 England formularies.

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 Mission”.

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 for.

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 tomato.
*from the author, 56 West Street, Polruan-by-Fowey, Cornwall PL23 1PL; £3.99.

Season’s greetings

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 surmises.

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”.

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