IT IS part of the Church in England; but could never be the
Church of England. This judgement on the state of Methodism and its
relationship to the Establishment came at the end of a typically
acerbic critique by Quentin Letts: What's the Point of . . .
The Methodists? (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week).
And the point of the Methodists is . . . that they played a
formative part in the trade-union and Labour movements; that their
stance on self-determination has inspired everyone from the
Tolpuddle Martyrs to Margaret Thatcher; and that they do not like
booze or gambling - much.
Nothing on doctrine or liturgical practice; but that is not what
Letts is about. For What's the Point of . . . ? is a
strand which gives full rein to the presenter's ego and prodigious
talent for offhand jibes. To the policy adviser who reminded us
that the Methodists had stood up against deregulation of gambling,
he retorted: "It's a shame the country didn't notice." The Church
of England is "moist", and full of "snoots". All of this makes for
a kind of clubbable entertainment; so long as you are content to
join the club, and titter with its host. But, if you are not, then
I imagine the effect is infuriating.
Especially when behind the supercilious patter is a story of
vertiginous decline, the Church having lost a third of its
membership in the past ten years. The cross-party Methodist group
in Parliament now relies on some C of E members for the numbers
required (20) to have it officially recognised.
We might have heard more about initiatives such as the New Song
Network, in Warrington; and about what this movement regards as
core Methodist values. But that all sounds rather serious for a
show of this intellectual flippancy.
The accusation of flippancy is not something that could ever be
levelled at BBC Wales's Drama on 3 production August 1914
(Radio 3, Sunday); a two-hour adaption of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's
historical novel, first published in 1971, but released in its
uncensored version only in 1984. In its treatment of the disastrous
opening of the Russian campaign against Germany, it has all the
sweep, dramatic range, and domestic detail that one could hope for
in a Russian novel; yet also is driven by that sense of outrage
that continues to energise our reading of the Great War.
On one level, the book, like this adaptation, is complex. Yet,
fundamentally, it is about a single campaign; and war is war. The
skill of this production was to maintain our interest as familiar
stories of bungling generals and vast loss of life were incessantly
Having Fiona Shaw as narrator helped - her voice captivates the
listener through any amount of gunfire. The story of Lenin and his
response to the news of Russian losses marked out useful
staging-posts along the way. And remarkable scenes of calm and
lucidity, such as the suicide of General Samsonov, enabled the
listener to follow some of the more important character arcs in a
way that can so often be obscured.
Like the campaign itself, this was a brave and ambitious
undertaking - but, unlike the campaign, with terrific results.