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10 May 2013


HARD for "man come of age" to believe though this may seem, about 250 people flocked to St Martin-in-the-Fields for the debate on Monday evening last week about John Robinson's work of uneasily digested German and American theology, Honest to God (Features, 26 April; Letters, 3 May) - a mere 50 years after publication day.

The BBC World Affairs correspondent Mike Wooldridge cycled to St Martin's to chair the discussion before flying out the next day to Pakistan (where a great many people probably do think that our image of God should go).

Among the audience were proud owners of the late Bishop of Woolwich's famous little shocker, with the marginal comments that they had inserted back in the day. Of course, the C of E's "ferment" no more began in 1963 than (pace Philip Larkin) something else of more general interest.

In the audience last week was the Very Revd Dr David L. Edwards, the former publisher who brought out the book at the SCM Press - not having, he told his latest successor, any idea that people would still be discussing it half a century on.

Initial printings sold out so fast, he recalls, that when a request for a copy came through from 10 Downing Street, the SCM Press didn't have one in stock.

Whatever else might be said about Robinson's theology, it was a religious publisher's most improbable dream come true.

IT WAS also a good year for Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

Many of our readers can have only just finished struggling through the more turgid passages of Lady Chatterley's Lover when they felt duty-bound to give their attention to Lord Denning's report, another instant bestseller of 1963.

This concerned the Profumo affair, and was obliged to explore the social circle of Miss Keeler, Miss Rice-Davies, the Minister of War, and a Soviet naval attaché. It is surprising that a little paperback about Tillich and Bultmann ever got a look-in, when you think about it.

But, given that Robinson had been "chipping away at the granite glory of the moral law", as one of his angry correspondents on hanging had put it, it was only a matter of time before he would be held a danger to national security.

"In the turmoil resulting from the Profumo scandal it seems to me that we must accept the fact that the Church of England has a heavy responsibility to bear in the matter of lowered moral standards," wrote George Goyder, a Church Assembly member, to the Church Times (14 June 1963).

"I believe it is . . . helpful to consider the current trend of Cambridge theology in terms of Mr Profumo's tragedy. For Mr Profumo can hardly be blamed if it should be found in fact that he has taken the Bishop's advice."

Bishops and osteopaths - you know what they're like. But, while Profumo proved himself, in the end, to be socially more useful than many whose lives have been untainted by public scandal, the question remains whether Cambridge theology did ultimately implant a certain quantity of iron in the Church of England's soul, if not the nation's (which surely, most of the time, goes its own way).

Goyder's sights were also set on H. A. Williams and Professor Lampe and, by implication, the editor of the symposium Soundings (1962), Alec Vidler. Goyder was scathing about "the blind guides of Cambridge who reject the Law of God and with it the morality of society in favour of the morality of self-development and social selfishness".

No doubt Robinson was right about hanging, and perhaps Williams was right about being near to God in Tangier; but it wouldn't be hard to trace some of the contemporary Church's difficulties back to the cult of self. If Goyder was even partly right, a harvest of division, disappointment, and bitterness, in due course, was inevitable.

THE editor of a trendy Christian journal, Prism, in 1963, the Revd Timothy (later Lord) Beaumont, included in "Religion!" - a funny-old-world column - an item from the Church Times's list of "Principal Church Events in 1962". This was "August 30, Chichester win Church Times Cricket Cup."

Thirty years later, it was my job to write an entry still along the same lines each year, long after Prism had gone out of print.

Those for whom the Cricket Cup is, indeed, an annual highlight have a treat in store. Christopher J. Gray, the author of The Willow and the Cloth, his 1999 compendium of cricketing clergy since the 18th century, has followed it with Parsons at Play: The cricketing lives of 65 clergymen (signed copies available from the author for £25* incl. airmail postage at The Old Rectory, Eureka, New South Wales 2480, Australia; email gray.books@bigpond.com).

Did you know that Bishop Coleridge Patteson, the Melanesian martyr of 1871, was "a sound batsman, with a strong defence and opening the batting [for the Eton XI] in 1844, hit 50 against Harrow at Lord's", and that in 1845 he had made 31 against the MCC?

No surprises that Henry Edward Manning - one of those Tractarian followers who left the field in 1851 - was not a good cricketer. A fairly useless batsman, he was a slow under-arm bowler; but at least he wrote a (not very funny) little comic verse to Charles Wordsworth, who had given him a cricket bat. Wordsworth became Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld & Dunblane in the Scottish Episcopal Church.

In contrast to Manning, here are test cricketers - Vernon Royle, Clem Wilson, Tom Killick, and David (later Lord) Sheppard - and the remarkable Lord Frederick Beauclerk (1773-1850, fourth son of the 5th Duke of St Albans), who fathered two capable cricketers, but was scarcely a role-model. His language was appalling, and he had no qualms about making money out of the game - indeed, claimed that he expected to win 600 guineas a year.

E. H. Pickering stepped out to bat at Lord's in July 1844 in a dark clerical suit, when called on to play for the Gentlemen against the Players. Some of our readers may remember (Canon) Jack Parsons, who died in 1981, and spent his 70th birthday scoring 65 in 43 minutes for Warwickshire Old County Cricketers' Association against Solihull School. He had bowled in the nets to W. G. Grace.

*or £17.99 from CT Bookshop

THE Wurzels' song "Combine Harvester" may have been turned down for a funeral (News, 26 April), but the Revd Mark Davys confesses to having allowed it at a wedding.

"I considered the request very carefully - mainly because of the method used to quieten a dog in the first verse rather than any significant concerns about the song's theology of marriage," he tells us.

"In my defence, the bride and groom did drive a combine harvester to return to their farm, and the groom did give the key to the bride when they were halfway down the aisle. I regret that I failed to check whether the vehicle was 'brand new'. I fear not."

Just "ancient and modern"?


Fri 20 May @ 02:55
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