MODESTY forbids me to say anything about The Guardian's
report on the state of the rural Church, except that it was very
long (2400 words on the web) and contained a couple of reasonable
jokes. But still, it shows what can be accomplished by a newspaper
prepared to send someone out to talk to people, and write down what
they say, even when this makes the story seem complicated.
It was meant, of course, to accompany the announcement of the
next Archbishop. But we haven't had that as I write, though someone
gave me a terrible shock this morning by saying that it was to have
been this Tuesday. I have come to think of the new Archbishop as a
figure like the Twelfth Imam: he will appear at the end of history,
but not before. Had Mitt Romney won his election, that might have
been sooner than we thought.
OVER at The Times, they developed a sudden interest in
the affairs of the Coptic Church. In many ways, the Copts lead an
unenviable life. They are horribly persecuted (see Rupert Shortt's
admirable book on Christianophobia), and the only thing that anyone
knows in their language is a fragment of gnosticism that turns out
to be fake; but at least they can manage to elect a leader by a
colourful, public, and, above all, timely process. An altar boy
pulls one of the final three names from an urn.
This reminds me of the scabrous YouTube parody in which Hitler,
raving in his bunker in the film Downfall, is subtitled as
if he were Lord Luce. "What was wrong with the old system", he
asks, "when we just threw darts in the senior common room at
Cuddesdon? Every change since then has been for the worse."
As Ruth Gledhill pointed out in her report: "More than 2000
electors were involved in drawing up the final shortlist, chosen
from Coptic bishops, leading laity, and even members of the
Egyptian journalists' syndicate.
"The openness of the ancient Church's process contrasts with the
secretive dithering of the Crown Nominations Commission, the Church
of England body that is attempting to choose the successor to the
Archbishop of Canterbury.
"An announcement on the successor to Dr Rowan Williams, who will
be expected to have a strong working relationship with Pope
Tawadrous, is expected soon."
That was in Monday's paper (and I am sure the Copts talk of
little else but their strong working relationship with Dr
Williams). On Tuesday, she tweeted that an announcement was
Will someone please put her out of her misery - though not this
afternoon, please? I am rather busy right now.
AND so to Stonewall, which took a fairly clear position on
matters ecclesiastical by naming Cardinal Keith O'Brien as "Bigot
of the Year", and Canon Giles Fraser as its "Hero of the Year".
I think the award to Cardinal O'Brien was silly and nasty in
equal measure, when you consider that he was running against a
Ugandan politician, among others. The Scottish Roman Catholic
Church may be wrong in all kinds of ways, but it does not compare
with a Ugandan government that seriously considered bringing in the
death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality", and five-year prison
sentences for arguing in favour of gay rights.
Perhaps it's absurd to worry about such things. The publicity
will have delighted both the winners and the organisers of the
award, and that's what really matters.
FULL marks to the FT travel section, which marked the
US election by sending someone to Nauvoo, the township where
Mormonism took shape before the inexplicable lynching of Joseph
Smith while his successor, Brigham Young, was out of town. Most of
the town has been reconstructed as a kind of 19th-century theme
"But as I walk around, it doesn't feel like I am getting any
closer to the faith of Romney's co-religionists. The
reconstructions are charming (albeit with rather less in the way of
dung and malaria than I suspect the originals had); the volunteers
delightful, and the town autumnal and beautiful. But, overall, the
experience feels more about history and housing than it does about
religion; a sort of upmarket Ironbridge.
"Until, that is, you sense the schisms and doctrinal differences
betrayed by the multiple visitor centres. Nauvoo (population 1149)
has no fewer than four: one run by the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints; one run by the Community of Christ; one run by
the local tourist board; and one run by a non-Mormon Christian.
"Each, a local tells me, will give you their own, subtly
different version of history (except for the non-Mormon, who
eschews all subtlety to tell me that Mormonism is 'toxic')."
Perhaps this is the perfect retirement job for journalists: to
sit all day in an anti-tourist bureau where you can tell visitors
that everything your neighbours believe and make their living from