Church on parade
I HAVE recently returned from the grand inauguration of the General Synod in Westminster Abbey. Bishops and clerics were gloriously arrayed in ecclesiastical and academic finery; the lay members could not compete, but the women appeared in some eye-catching hats.
We were seated well before the starting time, so that we could be in our places before the processions of more distinguished people, in order of increasing importance, ending with the Archbishops and the Supreme Governor herself. It was a wonderful display of pageantry, which this country seems to do better than any other, and the service contained superbly performed music, which we do better than most as well. (I understand that the Pope on his visit was impressed.)
I loved it, but I did wonder rather uneasily what all this had to do with the carpenter of Nazareth, and, indeed, whether he would have managed to get a ticket.
I think of this event as “The State Opening of General Synod”, and it is not the Synod’s only resemblance to the other place down the road. Members often feel uncomfortable with the adversarial nature of debates and the polarisation of groups, and wish that we might explore issues in a more consensual way.
We are, though, more polite (more adult?) in the way we speak to and about one another. Thanks to the quorum rules, which are enthusi-astically upheld by members who do not see why others should escape from dull debates that they are dutifully attending, we never have the dispiriting experience, which we often see in televised sessions of Parliament, of delivering our pearls to an almost empty chamber.
And so I am limbering up for another five years.
Through the narrow gate
WHEN our Sisters ran the retreat house in Chester, it was often used for selection conferences for ordination candidates. On one such occasion, a young hopeful found himself sitting next to a quiet, slightly built figure in a habit, who was eating very sparingly, in contrast to the other diners, who were heartily tucking in.
“Eat up, Sister,” he coaxed her. “You’ll never grow up to be a Reverend Mother at that rate.”
I do not know if anyone was unkind enough to point out to him that she was the Reverend Mother, there to conduct a visitation of the Sisters. It was typical of Mother Penelope to be unobtrusive except when she was absolutely required to take centre stage.
Ex-Mother (now again Sister) Penelope died in September. The Community drill for funerals is well practised, and we drove in convoy to the church where our Sisters are buried, and formed up outside the gate that ought to admit us to the church drive. It was locked.
We were not worried: one of our Sisters is Curate at that church, and among her collection of church keys there must surely be one to open the gate. There was not. Using her local knowledge, she found a churchwarden, who turned up, key in hand. Did it open the gate? It did not.
Plan B then came into operation. At the side of the big gate was a small wicket-gate, designed to admit pedestrians one at a time. Sister Penelope’s small size assumed an importance we had not expected. The front of the procession passed in, and an enthusiastic novice crucifer had to be restrained while the bearers expertly angled the coffin through the narrow gap, and then the rest of the procession wiggled through. Sister Penelope would have enjoyed it.
ANOTHER of Derby’s recent welcome innovations (in addition to the bus station I celebrated in my last Diary) is the Quad. This is an arts centre, which hosts a wide variety of events, including some classic films. I saw one of these recently.
Like most teenage girls of my generation, I fell in love with Dirk Bogarde’s left profile, but, in 1961, he abandoned the romantic-comedy films in which he had become popular to give a riveting performance in Victim, a story of lives destroyed by blackmail. We saw how homosexual men were forced to hide their sexuality, and how they lived in constant fear of discovery, loss of livelihood, and disgrace.
The film was so powerful that when it ended I sat still for some minutes, unable to return to normal life. Then I got into conversation with a young woman near me. She said: “You can’t imagine it, can you?”
“I remember it,” I responded.
In the face of her incredulity, I could not find words to add that in the Church we do not have to imagine it: we are living it still.
The Revd Sr Rosemary CHN is a nun at the Convent of the Holy Name in Derby.