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04 January 2013


AS YOU read this column, the turkey leftovers may still be being worked through, and there is every chance that wrapping-paper continues to bestrew your living room. Here in Cambridge, we have survived my first Christmas in the parish, and sundry carol services, midnight and morning masses, and the photocopying of countless service sheets have all passed off without too much pain.

They would have passed off with even less pain if I had not broken my collarbone. A few weeks ago, cycling to evening prayer in the cold and ice, I happened to brake just a little sharply on a corner. The bicycle disappeared from under me, and I hit the tarmac, shoulder first.

At this stage, a journalist with an eye for the main chance would tell you how he was ignored by every passer-by on the road before finally getting to hospital, only to have to wait on a hospital bed in a corridor for three hours before being seen by someone who did not speak English, and who promptly gave him the norovirus.

Sadly, I must report that not only was I in and out of Accident and Emergency within the hour, but I was incredibly well looked after; and, at the fracture clinic a fortnight later, I was seen by a very competent doctor, who examined my shoulder thoroughly, and pronounced himself entirely satisfied with my progress.

That may not make for such an exciting story, but it did at least make my first Christmas as an incumbent a working possibility.

THE doctor may have been satisfied with my progress, but I wasn't. Of the modest quantity of gifts bestowed on me by the Lord, patience is not one of them. It is astonishing how much of one's body is connected to the collarbone - doing the simplest task produced yelps of pain, and so many twinges that I will still be offering them up for the Holy Souls in purgatory, come Candlemas. Frankly, a few weeks of this and I was like a walking plenary indulgence.

In church, to begin with, a surplice was all I could put on, and the parish saw celebrations of the holy communion of a like not seen at Little St Mary's since the 19th century, I imagine. I did feel distinctly Church of England and olde worlde, and enjoyed pondering how my predecessors had got into trouble for wearing such a garment, compared by the Puritans at the Hampton Court Conferences, of course, with that worn by the priests of Isis. Now I looked as if I was being sponsored by the Prayer Book Society.

We eventually got me into an alb and eucharistic vestments, by dint of much manoeuvring, and a bevy of servers standing round me in the same way as you stand round a piece of machinery that isn't working. Amusingly, we went straight from surplices to Baroque Latin chasubles, as their narrow shape meant my be-slinged arm did not get hidden beneath folds of bro-cade.

The Latin chasuble had strings to tie round the celebrant, and, after those had been wound round both me and my arm sling, I began to have distinct sympathy for the way a turkey might feel before it enters the oven. 

THOUGHTS of surplices and brocade, however, turn this diarist's mind to other matters weightier than his health (by the time you read this, I should be back to normal - or what passes for normal, anyway). Possibly it was being trussed up like the proverbial Christmas bird which led my ponderings this winter in a morbid direction, and caused me to think, as I reviewed the events of the past year, that the ecumenical movement had not really got us very far.

How wrong I was, I realised, when my attention was drawn to the wisdom of the Prefect of the Roman Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who rapidly disabused me of such dispiriting and unworthy thoughts. Apparently, according to Archbishop Gerhard Müller, it is the Ordinariate that is the "fruit of ecumenical dialogue of the past 40 years, and an expression of the ultimate goal of the ecumenical movement".

It was good to know this, and it must be a great comfort to those who have engaged in a multitude of conferences, studies, prayer sessions, painstaking returns to the sources, and much heartache in recent decades: it was not in vain after all, but, rather, has produced abundant fruit. In return for docile submission to the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, and reordination of the clergy, you will be allowed to wear a surplice and recite the Prayer of Humble Access. I hope we now realise that that is 40 years well spent.

LEST the discerning reader detects a note of asperity in my tone, let me lighten your spirits by turning to the subject of my own diocese; for our Bishop has recently produced a rather marvellous discussion document. The cynical (among whom there are very few Church Times readers, of course) might raise a sceptical eyebrow at another apparent effort at episcopal strategy; yet doubts and concerns begin to melt away almost the moment you sees the booklet; for each stiff page gladdens the eyes with the sight of nothing other than glorious and gorgeous brocade.

How could you doubt that all will be well, when the produce of Messrs Watts and Co. meets you on every side of card? Gold, white, and red all combine calmingly to envelop the text, until you realise that, whatever the future of the diocese of Ely, it will be one in impeccably good taste. If nothing is more missional (and there's a word we can wish was never invented) than a beautiful vestment, then the growth of the Church in the Fens is assured.

I shall be submitting in all things lawful and honest in the New Year, therefore, with a little purchase from a reputable ecclesiastical outfitter. All in the cause of evangelisation, you understand.

AND, finally, to lighten your spirits yet further, this vignette from a priest friend, whose son may have an unnerving insight into cheeky vicars such as me:

Child to churchwarden: Are you a Christian?
CW: Yes, but not a very good one.
Child: Is my mummy a Christian?
CW: Yes.
Child: Is my sister?
CW: Yes.
Child: Is our dog?
CW: She certainly lives in a Christian household, yes.
Child: Is my daddy a Christian?
CW: Yes.
Child: Oh! I thought he was the Vicar.

A very happy New Year to you. 

The Revd Robert Mackley is the Vicar of Little St Mary's, Cambridge.

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