THE duties of Holy Week require, of course, from all clergy, the
year's greatest commitment of time, energy, and emotional
engagement. In 2014, however, here at St Mary Abbots, this was
greatly exacerbated by, first, the time I spent combing through the
TV schedules seeking programmes relating to this very heart of the
Christian year; then, second, by the effort required to channel my
frustration at discovering so very little that could seriously be
said to fall into this broad category.
Yes, on Easter Day, an admirable sung eucharist in Leicester
Cathedral was broadcast in Easter Worship from Leicester
(BBC1), an inclusive liturgy rooted both in its community - Indian
dance was woven into the service - and the great tradition of
Western Christianity in its exuberant performance of a Mozart
Yet that was created and choreographed by the cathedral's staff.
Where are the serious explorations of our faith, the creative
retellings of the word's greatest narrative, the accounts of the
infinite riches of Christian belief and practice at this most
crucial season of the year?
I am not prepared to count last Sunday's Songs of
Praise. That happens anyway, and my criticism of that populist
compilation of Christianity-lite is well known.
I see this as, above all, a BBC failing. ITV and Channel 4 do no
better (apart from Channel 4's daily two-minute Lent
Diary, which this year focused on the testimony of Black
Pentecostal Christians - admirable, but too short and narrow to
satisfy much spiritual hunger), but they do not have the BBC's
public remit, or licence revenue, or self-satisfaction of
considering themselves the world's finest broadcasting company.
Theirs is the lesser fault.
It is the BBC that should lead. Why so blind to the artistic
engagements with our faith, in poetry, drama, painting, sculpture?
Why does it hold so fervently to an exploded secularist viewpoint?
Even the PM has the courage to proclaim the centrality of our
religion in Britain's common life (and thanks for the plug,
I did enjoy Holy Saturday's Messiah at the Foundling
Hospital (BBC2). It followed a twin track: Tom Service showed
how this fitted into Handel's artistic development, while Amanda
Vickery focused on Thomas Coram, so moved by the plight of children
left to die in Georgian London that he determined to care for
Even for those familiar with the outline, excellent points were
made. Many pious people refused to support the idea: surely such a
provision would merely encourage promiscuity? Handel's new form of
oratorio moved great music away from the aristocratic confines of
Italian opera to the far more democratic and Protestant expression
of art, participatory, in English - and far more suited to a
Coram's eventual success, after 17 years of struggle,
represented a new engagement with the struggles of the poor. It was
not all good: the actual performance of Messiah was not
entirely authentic - didn't Handel lead from harpsichord or organ?
I sensed directorial compromise: let's not upset people's
expectations too much, however wrong they are.