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20 October 2010

by Robert Mackley

Tastefully C of E

I WRITE this on the feast of St Wilfrid, whom Celebrating the Saints rather dourly refers to as someone whose “manner and methods were not such as to draw people close to him at a personal level”. Not only that, but he marched round intro­ducing the Roman rite all over the place, and went abroad to get ordained.

I can think of no one better suited, therefore, to be patron of a group of Anglo-Catholics.

If you are wondering what I’m on about, you must have missed the ec­clesiological sensation of the decade that is SWiSH: the Society of St Wilfred and St Hilda (there should be an extra “s”, and the “i” is a bit gratuitous, I know, but a chap has to have his fun, and the C of E has to have her acronyms).

This is the organisation that I have been waiting to join. I don’t know much about it (nor does anyone else, it seems, least of all its founders), but it strikes me as a splendid thing. The St Hilda bit, I assume, is to indicate that traditionalist female Anglo-Catholic priests can join, too; and the choice of two truculent saints with slightly old-fashioned names fits in entirely with my model of ministry.

A well-fitting cassock does indeed make a nice swishing noise, as does a silk chasuble on a cotton alb; so there can be few better acronyms: if the C of E is in turmoil, we can at least be so in good taste. It has grounded bishops rather than those funny aerial ones, apparently, and a lovely calming green website. But the thing that means that it must be of God? The Daily Telegraph’s Damian Thompson does not like it.

Not a good day

WE DO not know what the successor of St Peter makes of it either, given that it emerged after his visit to these shores. The highlight of the Holy Father’s visit was, of course, his sharing in evening prayer (albeit in a form somewhat resembling a canine petit déjeuner) with Dr Williams. Their embrace at the Peace, their shared prayer at the Shrine of the Confessor, and the unscripted kiss­ing of the altar were all moving and humbling.

Also moving and humbling was the Dean’s marvellously forgetting the name of one of the martyrs on the Abbey’s west front, as he pointed them out to the Pope, and the Arch­bishop’s whispering what looked like a dirty joke in the ear of the Minor Canon and Succentor as they made their way out.

Less moving and humbling — and not, therefore, the highlight of the visit — was choosing the day of Blessed John Henry Newman’s secession from the Catholic Church of this land as his feast day rather than the day of his death, in August. The argument that people are away on holiday in August is hardly con­vincing: Our Lady seems to be able to mark her Assumption in that month without too much pain, and, for the southern hemisphere, it is no holiday time at all.

As the young people of my uni­versity are wont to say: bad times.

Danish surprise

I DISCOVERED the other day that — courtesy of Porvoo — we have entered into full communion with the Danish Lutheran Church. Now, you have to be careful here, because, like “mission”, “ecumenism” is one of those things that it is a grave sin to be against, and, in the modern church, asking even the most innocent question gets the mission-shaped fanatics and ecumaniacs quivering with righteous indigna­tion.

Call me a bluff traditionalist, but I thought you had to preserve the historic episcopal succession to be in the Premier League that is Porvoo; otherwise, you get put in the Cham­pionship Division of Meissen — don’t you? But not now, it seems. Those lovely white ruffs around the neck and the prospect of endless supplies of bacon have caused us to fudge gracefully over that omission. We national Churches must stick together, one assumes.

Faith for nothing

BEING a national Church does have its moments, though. A friend re­counts visiting a family who wanted their child baptised, and, after duly explaining the nature of baptism and all those things one fears go in one ear and out the other, he asked them if they had any ques­tions. “Yes,” said the father. “How much does it cost?”

“Nothing,” my friend replied. “The gift of faith is free.”

“There, I told you,” said the mother. “I told you it was on the NHS.”

The Revd Robert Mackley is a research student at the University of Cambridge

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