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24 January 2014


Shop talk

I OVERHEARD anxious talk in Hymns A&M Towers last week about whether the Bishop of London were to be invited, enjoined, permitted, or forbidden (I am not sure which term is appropriate in what must surely be some form of peculiar) to asperse the refurbished Church House Bookshop with holy water when he blessed it on Monday.

In some quarters I diagnosed an outbreak of booksellers' hydrophobia, if not the Protestant variety - though I wonder that a few Teflon-coated editions of Common Worship: Messy Services (Emergency Volume) or some such publication could not have been placed strategically in the firing line, while rarer items in tooled calf and Bible paper, such as (I imagine) The Perfumed Garden of the Ordinariate, were moved safely to the back.

In the end, the rite was - I hear, having been unavoidably absent - very much what our Ritualist predecessors at the Church Times might have referred to in jest as a missa sicca. But at least the blessing was given partly in Greek, which gets us immediately into the spirit of the Undivided Church, and is no doubt as good as the vernacular for the bookshop's learned customers of all faiths and none.

The Bishop gave thanks "for the generations in whom you have inspired a love of sacred learning", and revealed (though this wasn't part of the blessing) his own love of bookshops, and his regret that so many have vanished in recent years. As someone who used to love rummaging in those delightfully chaotic upper rooms full of the discarded works of William Barclay and J. B. Phillips which were a feature of most SPCK branches, I am inclined to sympathise.

The Bookshop's sales (including online) are, they tell us, up on last year by 13 per cent for the three months October to December - and this is from refurbished premises that were as yet "unvisited, unblest". I hope that ecclesiastical bookworms are not, like snakes, driven out by episcopal blessings.

Mainly ladders

IF THE association of the words "rugby" and "calendar" didn't mean anything to the clergy of the diocese of London before, I imagine it does today; for 24 January 2014 brings before them, for the first time, the name of William Webb Ellis, priest and Evangelical divine, as an official diocesan commemoration.

Old Rugbeians will spot the link, of course; for there is a statue of him at Rugby School. Webb Ellis was none other than the boy who broke the rules while playing football in 1823, when he picked up the ball and ran with it.

The rest, as they say, is history, although the new edition of the online "London Kalendar" is wary of a legend in this instance, if not in all others, and Michael Redman's mini-biograpy states: "Whether or not this event was of significance in the formulation of the rules of Rugby Union his name remains associated with the sport and the William Webb Ellis Cup is presented to the winners of Rugby World Cup."

After Oxford, our man was ordained for St George's, Albemarle Street, and later was Rector of St Clement Danes until 1855, when he became Rector of Magdalen Laver in Essex, where he built a school with funds raised from St George's. He died on this day in 1872 in France, and is buried at Menton in the Alpes-Maritimes.

Other additions to the calendar are Elizabeth Neale, J. M. Neale's sister, who founded the Community of the Holy Cross, and worked with Fr Lowder in the cholera-stricken East End; and Beilby Porteus, a Bishop of London who is described as an "energetic" campaigner against slavery. Rahere, founder of St Bart's, about whom Kipling wrote a lovely poem (but who doesn't get to be a jester here), is the last of the new commemorations. Meanwhile, the diocese is giving a fresh lease of life to St Faith (linked with St Paul's Cathedral) and St Cecilia, as both become lesser festivals. Sts Mellitus, Erkenwald, and Ethelburga are all designated as festivals.

There could be a snakes-and-ladders quality to an online calendar that is so easily revised; so it is good to see mainly ladders so far.


Once too often?

ONE Christmas was marred, I read, by what our complainant calls "the cloth-eared puritans who just can't leave well alone, because they know best, always sacrificing charm and mystery to some vague demotic ideal".

The culprits had revised - of all things - "Once, in royal David's city", and changed "And he feeleth for our sadness and he shareth in our gladness" to: "And He cares when we are sad, And He shares when we are glad."

This, Jane Kelly of London W3, told us, was in a hospital - where I'm surprised it didn't finish off any of the patients.

Our correspondent had better not be introduced to Cllr Frank McManus of Todmorden, who wrote in concurrently with a proposed amendment of the verse that describes Jesus as "mild" to:

Through a life of lowly labour
He on earth was pleased to dwell,
All our want and sorrow sharing,
God with us, Emmanuel,
Till by death our life he won,
Mighty victor, Mary's son.

Keen-eyed readers will spot an (acknowledged) crib of four lines from E. E. Dugmore's "Christians, sing the Incarnation" (711 in the Standard Edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern), which is a hymn that I rather like in its own right - though it is unfashionable in both its theology and its considerable length.

I first saw it long ago in the strangely maligned Mirfield Mission Hymn Book, and dreamt of singing it as a procession wound round some beautiful church on Lady Day.

Hood and sonnet

IT WAS thoughtful of the General Synod's Business Committee, planning next month's meeting, with its potential for tensions over the revision of the draft women-bishops legislation, to lay on a little light entertainment in the shape of a motion to revise the canon on ministerial vesture during the time of Divine Service.

Entering into the spirit of this lark, the Revd S. C. Hemming-Clark, describing himself as a "Puzzled Octogenarian Priest", sent us a sonnet on the proposed change, which I cannot print in full, but which expresses his puzzlement that a matter should be resuscitated that was dealt with at some length in the Convocations during his youth.

At that time, he recalls, Evangelicals were all out for cassock, surplice, scarf, and hood. Then, as his sonnet puts it, "The Canon was passed and things seemed okay."

His sestet does merit a small prize (not quite the full maniple, though) for the ingenuity of his rhyming scheme:

Sixty years later, and now I am old:
Evangelicals - in Suits now kitted
Or T-shirts and Jeans (for so I am told) -
Want a Canon to show they're permitted.
For a Puzzled Priest will some expert state
What these changes mean (see Canon B8)?


Sat 25 Jun @ 03:37
Investor engagement to be prioritised over disinvesting, say Church Commissioners https://t.co/QebmsPHXhy

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