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
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.
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
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
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)?