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04 January 2011

by Robert Mackley

We’re still standing

WELL, despite endless predictions to the contrary, we appear to be entering 2011 with the Church of England still intact. The media are hardly ever correct about anything they report, but when it comes to “religious affairs”, as they phrase it (making it sound like stories con­cerning nuns committing adultery), you can wave goodbye to even a hint of accuracy.

If it wasn’t mad Africans and Americans demanding that the Archbishop of Canterbury “show leadership” on homosexuality — meaning, of course, that they want him to agree with them — then it was mad English people threatening or promising to join the Ordinariate.

No one quite knew what the Ordinariate was for, anyway; so it was unlikely that any news organ­isations would be shedding much light on the matter. The best line came in a BBC report of the decision of five Anglican bishops to jump ship: Ruth Gledhill, religion corres­pondent for The Times, told the BBC that the announcement could prompt “hun­dreds, possibly thou­sands” of “lay ministers” to follow the bishops’ example.

So, a mass exodus of blue scarves! Just think: Bishop Edwin Barnes and 700 Readers. Frankly, I don’t see how anyone could turn that down. This poses all sorts of questions, however. Will they need to be re-licensed, or does the Roman Cath­olic Church recognise their ministry? Pope Leo XIII was strangely silent on the matter in Apostolicae Curae. Will they still be allowed to wear their blue tippets, or must they be issued with new, ill-fitting polyester RC ones with iron-on early-Christian symbols, to match the lovely vest­ments of their newly-Romanated priests? I suspect we have not heard the last of this.

Wildlife benchmark

FOR all the people who think the Church of England is too liberal, however, there are those who think she’s too conservative. A friend of mine had a pagan on the phone not long after Hallowe’en, complaining about his parish priest, who had called Hallowe’en “pagan”, and men­tioned “dark forces” and “evil”. The caller was very insistent: “I mean, I’m not a bad person. I’m not evil, you know, I’m . . . well . . . I’m a member of the World Wildlife Fund.” He had nothing against Christians, he said, adding that, in fact, “I don’t like those humanitarians that bash Chris­tianity either.”

Well, we are all concerned about the humanitarians who bash Chris­tianity; and I, for one, have always taken membership of the WWF to be a sure sign that you are utterly opposed to Beelzebub and all his works. But let us hope that this chap meant humanists, or something really has gone wrong.

Secularist balance

WHILE we’re on the subject of Ruth Gledhill and the BBC, she was opining before Christmas about the Corporation’s splendid nativity, de-s­cribing it as Christian “propaganda”, and saying that unless the BBC did something similar for Muslims and secularists then it would be accused of bias.

By all means tell the story of Muhammad, I thought, but what would the Beeb offer as the ap­pealing aspects of atheism? A photo­graph of Polly Toynbee? A blank screen symbolising the pointlessness of life? The life stories of Stalin and Mao Zedong, perhaps? Or maybe the prospect of an end to Songs of Praise and the naffer platitudes of Thought for the Day? If the latter, this secular­ism could begin to be appealing.

Midnight-mass musings

THE other thing that makes atheism appealing, of course, is going to church. Being a college chaplain in Cambridge means one is oddly free at Christmas, and so, this year, I popped home for the festive season, and for midnight mass.

I fear this may become a rant, so forgive me; but why do clergy feel the need to give endless announce­ments? Whether it’s “We confess our sins on page 12” (what if my sins aren’t on page 12?), or telling us which eucharistic prayer they’re using (why do the faithful need to know that?), precious minutes of midnight mass were given away to information overload.

We were told the collect is “The special prayer for Christmas”, and then, just before it began, we were informed that we should “Feel free to sit, kneel, or stand for the eucharistic prayer”, whereupon a couple in the front row sat down and — Mexican-wave-meets-group-psychology — were promptly followed by everyone else (except your diarist, who re­mained standing on a point of liturgical principle, and looked like a moron for his pains).

The sermon, while reasonably brief, essentially said nothing, and didn’t say it very well. But then, it’s not as if this was a service with lots of non-churchgoing visitors to address or anything. The service wasn’t wicked, and it wasn’t awful — it wasn’t really anything very much, in fact.

I suspect that being neither here nor there is far more likely to add to the secularist cause than anything that zealots such as Richard Dawkins say.

One feast too many?

AT THE moment, my main form of zealotry concerns New Year’s Day. Now, I’m a decent, Catholic sort of chap, and Marian and ecumenical to a fault, but I get very cross with this modern Roman tendency to celeb­rate 1 January as the feast of “Mary, Mother of God”.

Our Lady is hardly without feast days; so why does she need yet another day on top of all that? She must get exhausted having so much dulia beating on the gates of heaven, especially when she’s barely re­covered from giving birth.

The calendar of the Church of England and the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (how often you find they are at one) are both more ancient and more biblical, keeping the eighth day of our Lord’s birth as his naming and circum­cision. Not only does it spare one finding another Marian sermon, but you can share in the (to be honest) alarming levels of patristic excite­ment about this day.

The Fathers loved the fact that in his circumcision there is the first spilling of Christ’s blood, and see all manner of symbols and thrills in the event. Surely there can be no better way to keep the C of E together and fight the secularists than to have welcomed in the New Year with a good harangue about blood and circumcision? I’m sure that’s what you did. If so, happy New Year.

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

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