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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
Child: Is my sister?
Child: Is our dog?
CW: She certainly lives in a Christian household, yes.
Child: Is my daddy a Christian?
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,