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08 November 2011

by Glyn Paflin

An ideal revisited

THERE will be someone special in the Year’s Mind list in Manchester on Sunday week, if I am not mistaken: William Temple called him “the ideal parish priest”, and he died on 17 November 1961.

Still trying to work it out? No surprise there; for H. E. Sheen’s 1965 biography of Canon Peter Green is in our office library, but I have never seen a reprint of it. Perhaps it was a mistake to die just before the Wool­wich fireworks, the Paul report, and all the rest, when existing models of parochial work were being dis­counted.

Bishop Frank Sergeant’s new book* seeks to “discover what Peter Green thought and taught and the depth of his spirituality in his 38 books published over years, indicat­ing his integrated system of faith, life, and service”.

Green had a 60-year ministry at Sacred Trinity and at St Philip’s, Sal­ford, and wrote regu­larly as “Artifex” in the Manchester Guardian for more than 40 years — receiving more than 500 abusive letters. During the First World War, his had been a voice of protest — against hearsay atrocity stories against the Germans, among other things. “The nation”, he also wrote, “is not on its knees seeking God, but a corp­oration on its defence taking care of its endowments.” Particularly topical is his ministry in the Depression.

His books on priesthood, such as The Town Parson and The Man of God, include ideas about the liturgy, summarised here, which strike me as still relevant; while he was unusual for his time in believing that all mar­riages should be held in register offices, with a blessing to follow in church if requested.

He saw sermons and evangelism as highly important. Donald Coggan once linked his name with Simeon’s and Venn’s. He wrote Parochial Mis­sions Today, and many will nod in agreement at: “the Vicar, when he is inducted, is given the charge of a parish, not of a congregation. It is for their soul he will have to give ac­count at the Last Day.” But how many who blather about mission ac­cept, as he did, the burden of prayer and visiting which it entails?

And he offers a real challenge to today’s Church in his attitude to social activities as a bribe to attract outsiders. “A door out of the church into the Lads’ Club is a first-rate thing. A door out of the Lads’ Club into church is no earthly use.”

He wrote on aesthetics, and theo­logy, and took the sacraments seri­ously. In his writings on ethical questions, he taught that adultery freed the innocent party to marry again in church. He opposed state-registered brothels and, more sur­prisingly, VD clinics; for homo­sexuals, he advocated treatment rather than punishment. Birth con­trol was also unacceptable, because he began from the principle “what is right is what is natural.”

His views on economic questions might be called leftward-leaning, but arose from the belief that business was not competition but social ser­vice. He was a pacifist who modified his views in the face of Nazism. He resisted all the many attempts to make him a bishop.

This book would quickly give the newly ordained a richer background against which to assess today’s com­peting visions of priesthood — and how much hard work it involves.

*A Complete Parish Priest: Peter Green (1871-1961) is available from Anglo-Catholic History Society, 24 Cloudesley Square, London N1 0HN (skelly785@btinternet.com) at £15 plus £3 postage (978-0-9560565-1-1).

Editors’ art

THIS item is © Thank You But No Thank You Music. I suggested last month that others than Cllr Frank McManus of Todmorden might have ideas for improving (in their view) the contemporary song repertoire (Diary, 14 October).

The first to try his hand is G. M. Lyon, of Newburgh, Wigan, with emendations of three songs: Jenny Hewer’s “Father, I place into your hands”; Nettie Rose’s “Praise you, Lord, for the wonder of your heal­ing”; and Bernadette Farrell’s “O God, you search me and you know me”.

The fault with the first, he says, is: “Sounds like someone else wrote the second half, switches into ‘God is my boyfriend’ mode, rather leaves every­thing in God’s hands for him to sort out, and ignores the obvious scrip­tural reference.”

So he cuts verses 3 and 4 (“Father, we love to seek your face . . .” and “Father, I want to be with you . . .”), and, with a faint echo of the steward­ship campaigns of yesteryear, con­tinues the plan of the first two verses with: “Father, I place into your hands My talents and my time” — and then so on for “The riches I call mine . . . My body and my mind”, and “Each day that goes so fast . . . My future and my past . . . My spirit at the last.”

A solid 8 out of 10 for this, I’d say, though I’m afraid the tune in Mis­sion Praise would make it hard for me to join in with pleasure.

I should stand up for Nettie Rose, though: “Fault: Starts promisingly as a song for healing and wholeness, but ends up with thorns turning to roses (?) and the path of pain being made ‘sweet’ (surely not written when the author was in any pain!).”

Mr Lyon offers alternatives to three of her verses, but I am not sure that they improve her song. Rose’s “You have turned out thorns not roses; glory, Lord, as they bloom upon your brow,” is, after all, an attempt to rise above the prosaic. I think I’ll con­tinue to live with not singing this song in either version.

Mr Lyon’s alternative to Farrell’s verse 5 scores another 8, though:

Like all your works I am a wonder.
From the womb you numbered all my days.
You know all of my worries and my weakness:
Lead me, O Lord, in your everlasting ways.

Like all your works I am a wonder.
From the womb you numbered all my days.
You know all of my worries and my weakness:
Lead me, O Lord, in your everlasting ways.

This restores the petition at the end of Psalm 139, but, above all, avoids the problem of rhyming “womb”. Farrell chose “new”, which, as rhymes go, would barely cut the mustard even in Norfolk, where they say “by Hume, and with Hume, and in Hume . . .”

Scrabble runes

“THERE are a lot of things hap­pening in these last days, and we need to read the Bible and see why they are happening,” a Jehovah’s Wit­ness told me on the bus last week. Indeed. But could she really be think­ing of St Paul’s Cathed­ral?

The Anglican clergy, however, have other sources of information. I’m not sure how delighted Canon Fraser or his admirable wife, Sally (who keeps our books pages running smoothly), would be to know it, but the Revd Alec Mitchell of Denton, fiddling with his Scrabble-tiles, discovered that “The Canon Chan­cellor, The Rev Dr Giles Fraser” was an anagram of “Arch co-handler resigns over tent-hell farce”.

It is not for me to say whether that makes him a smart Alec.

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