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The poorest child in the class

16 November 2012

Profiled: Saturday's Financial Times, with a Cummings cartoon

Profiled: Saturday's Financial Times, with a Cummings cartoon

THIS week, it would be easy to fill the column three times over. There is a wonderful opportunity for gloating over the discomfiture of the American Right: George Weigel, a man notoriously more Catholic than the Pope, and always happy to explain this to the Vatican, discovered on the morning after the election that he is now also more American than the President. The resulting outburst (in the National Review Online) is one for the ages:

"Those who booed God, celebrated an unfettered abortion licence, canonized Sandra Fluke, and sacramentalized sodomy at the Democratic National Convention will have been emboldened to advance the cause of lifestyle libertinism through coercive state power. . . [An email from London] suggested that Obama's re-election was a cataclysm for America similar to Henry VIII's break with Rome: a politico-cultural-economic game-changer the effects of which would be felt for centuries."

Beat that, Melanie Phillips.

Then there was the opportunity for sententious reflection offered by the shambles at the BBC. I'll pass on that this week.

Oh, yes. One other piece of religious news. The two best profiles of the new Archbishop, in that they contained some actual reporting rather than the regurgitation of known facts, were Cole Moreton and Edward Malnick in The Sunday Telegraph, and, ahem, Lizzy Davies in The Guardian.

These were full of the reflections of people who had actually worked with the new Archbishop. The Sunday Telegraph had also done some proper digging into his time at Eton.

"Francis Gardner, his housemaster there, told The Sunday Telegraph: 'He was, shall we say, a serious-minded student, who always worked to the best of his ability, academically. He was not a great games player, as some schoolboys are, but he took an interest in people and anything sensible. He was a model boy, though not one of great distinction.'

"But behind the photograph of the boys of Gardner House lies a hidden truth. Master Welby had a problem, according to a family friend. His erratic father had enough money to send him to the public school, but didn't give any of it to Justin to pay his way, day to day. In a class that included two Rothschilds, he was almost certainly the poorest child. That cannot have been easy."

One angle that was not very well pursued was the influence of Holy Trinity, Brompton (HTB), and of Alpha. At his inaugural press conference, I noticed William Fittall, another HTB alumnus, leaning against a wall; later, Mark Elsdon Dew, the organisation's press officer, was handing out cards. There's obviously scope for a proper investigation of how HTB works and thinks, and how it came to be the most influential grouping in the Church of England. I have even written the headline myself: "Straight outta Brompton: vicars with attitude".

I don't think Peter Stanford's piece in The Observer was it. He had been to the church and looked around the bookshop, but almost all the quotes were from outsiders: "'They are very good at numbers,' says the broadcaster and Northamptonshire vicar, the Revd Richard Coles, part of the more liberal wing of Anglicanism. 'So it would be foolish to be disparaging. In fact, the rest of us look at them with envy.' And novelist Salley Vickers, while conceding that the HTB approach is 'not my kind of Anglicanism', applauds its proven appeal to a younger generation usually absent from the pews: 'It seems to be in touch with something more basic.'"

At a guess, this is because the piece was commissioned about a day before it was delivered. Stanford is too much of a pro to let this show in his easy style; but there are some things that take a lot of time to dig out and understand. And at least he went to the right church: the piece was illustrated with a shot of the Brompton Oratory.

Leader-writers were generally very positive towards Bishop Welby. They didn't even kick his predecessor too much. The Times, though, was remarkable. Consider these two sentences: "Bishop Welby was baptised as an adult and came to his ministry in his maturity, after he and his wife suffered the tragedy of the death of a young child. He is unusual as a Christian leader in having come to faith through the Alpha course, a form of evangelism pioneered by Holy Trinity, Brompton, an evangelical church in London."

There are only two errors in this, according to HTB: he was not baptised as an adult; and he did not come to faith through an Alpha course. The Times also found room to claim that the news of his appointment had been broken by Ruth Gledhill, but not - somehow - to mention her tweet, three hours earlier, proclaiming even more exclusively that he would not get the job.

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