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28 February 2014


Bishop's book

AFTER waxing lyrical about the online London Diocesan Kalendar (Diary, 24 January), it seems only fair - indeed, a duty and a joy - to put in a word for the diocese of St Albans, where the Bishop, the Rt Revd Alan Smith, has shown exemplary faith in the value of that good old medium the printed book.

St Albans is part of a quartet of dioceses - the others are Chelmsford, St Edmundsbury & Ipswich, and Sheffield - with centenaries this year. While the other three were new in 1914, St Albans is celebrating its Anschluss of the county of Bedfordshire, with this handsome episcopal tribute to "the Christian men and women who have served God in this area, and to those who draw inspiration from them in their life of faith today".

The Bishop's mighty tome - weighing in at 2.24kg - isn't, strictly, a diocesan calendar, although it is intended that it can be used with the daily Office.

It would, after all, be odd, even in the age of episcopal feminism, to bump St Paul and even St Peter off 29 June so as to give dulia to the excellent Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. But - who knows? - perhaps that is what they do now in Oxford and Cambridge, where she founded two colleges, had another one named after her, and founded a Cambridge chair of Divinity, as Bishop Smith helpfully informs us.

The Bishop seems not to have noticed that Oxford also managed to squeeze a Lady Margaret Divinity chair of its own out of all that pious abundance; but he does give an honourable mention to Margaret Beaufort Middle School, Riseley. I wonder whether that has ever seen much of her cash.

She is not, of course, the only good woman in his pages - one page for every day of the year, each with a spaciously laid-out mini-biography, a substantial quotation, a prayer, and occasionally a beautifully reproduced portrait - as in the photo of Jennifer Worth, author of Call the Midwife, which is on our Books pages this week (page 31). This book will look impressive on a lectern or prayer desk - which is, I understand, the Bishop's cunning plan for every church, school, or chaplaincy in his diocese.

Among those whom he claims as linked to St Albans are Dame Cicely Saunders, Mother Jane SLG, Mother Mary Clare CSM, and Mary Augusta Ward, as well as a selection of historic personages including Katherine of Aragon, Queen Elizabeth I, and even her tiresome sister (the Bishop is far more ecumenical than I am on this).

 ut they do not have to be famous. Joan Wilkins (1918-2001), known as "Dorkie", was born in the workhouse, the Bishop writes. She became a live-in housekeeper, and was eventually churchwarden at St Mary's, Shelton, for 40 years. "The Church was the centre of her life and, thanks to her, thrived in a village with barely fifty residents."

Editor and Dean

EVEN editing the Church Times is not a bar to inclusion in Bishop Smith's catalogue of holiness, since Rosamund Essex gets a page, as does as her theological minder at the CT in the 1950s, Dean Thicknesse, who was wounded when he was serving as a military chaplain at Ypres. His page has a reflection by Antonios Kirepopoulos on arms reduction, and a prayer to be saved from "the sins that lead to conflict and war".

John Bunyan, Ninian Comper, Isaak Walton, Trevor Huddleston, Herbert Sumsion, John Tradescant, Adrian Fortescue, and saints of the Universal Church - there is nothing if not variety here. I was glad to be introduced to Alexander of Neckam (1157-1217), an Augustinian canon who was born at St Albans and taught at Dunstable, and was "the first Westerner to write about the way that sailors could utilise the compass to help them navigate". A surprising contribution from land-locked Bedfordshire, you may think.

The quoted passages range widely, from St Benedict and St Cyprian to William Law, Austin Farrer, C. S. Lewis, and Kenneth Leech. The selection reminds me a little of that scholarly anthology that came out a few years ago from OUP, Love's Redeeming Work. This would, no doubt, please Charles Williams, a Press man himself, who features as an alumnus of St Albans School, and with a passage from his wonderful book The Descent of the Dove - and that really is a tribute, since I find his poetry and fiction quite unreadable.

Saints and Pilgrims in the Diocese of St Albans is published by the Amphibalus Press at £25 (CT Bookshop £22.50); 978-0-9575982-0-1.

Consulting Bradshaw

IT WAS one of the differences between the Church Times and the generality of newspapers that, when I first joined the staff, much of the space in the newsroom cupboard was taken up by elderly volumes from the Henry Bradshaw Society.

This was nothing to with railway timetables. The society, it appeared, had been in the habit of publishing medieval liturgical texts on expensive paper with a scholarly apparatus and no concession to the educational shortcomings of what is known as the "general reader".

Perhaps it had once been a necessity for the CT's reporters to have rapid access to such volumes on discovering sensational scandals - perhaps a mistranslation by Bishop Frere in a collect for a lesser saint's day in the 1927 Prayer Book; or that Percy Dearmer had invented a piece of ceremonial in his Parson's Handbook just because he thought it would be nice (heaven forfend).

So it is pleasant to discover, with the arrival in the office of English Monastic Litanies of the Saints after 1100: Volume II, Pontefract-York (Boydell Press for the HBS, £45 (£40.50); 978-1-90749-727-8), edited by Nigel J. Morgan, that the society still exists, and still does very much the same thing in the same style. I need hardly say that the notes on the manuscripts are very full, and that this is an edition, not a translation, and so would-be readers will need to brush up their Latin.

St Albans (see left) is well represented, with star billing in its manuscripts for St Alban himself, of course, and for St Amphibalus and St Oswin. But this is a project that grew like Topsy, Volume II taking Professor Morgan's tally of litanies from all corners of the land to CXIII (you see: the style is catching).

Moreover, as the Publications Secretary's preface announces, there is "breaking news": "an addendum to Volume I presenting a recently discovered fragment of a litany from Norwich Cathedral Priory. That addendum stands also as a tribute to Professor Morgan's remarkable energy in doggedly pursuing every line of enquiry in order to bring us the most up-to-date picture of medieval English monastic litanies."

So now you see why such books belong in a newsroom.

Change at Holborn

PARTINGS are all the sweeter sorrow when you know that in fact someone isn't going far.

The former Archdeacon of Hackney, the Revd Dr Lyle Dennen, an occasional contributor to our pages (who stood in for the Bishop of Chichester after he inconvenienced our Sunday's Readings column by having a heart attack), has just retired as Rector of St Andrew's, Holborn. He is moving to the East End of London.

His farewell Candlemas service in St Andrew's was quite a do, with a packed church despite the Tube strike, and a touch of theatre reminiscent of both the medieval Church and the 1970s TV version of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, when his wife, Xenia Dennen (chairman of the Keston Institute), sang the programme's famous closing music, Geoffrey Burgon's solo setting of the Nunc Dimittis, from the church's gallery, at the point when Simeon utters it in the Gospel reading.

Dr Dennen, who was once a high-flying lawyer in the United States, and has been referred to as Pontius Pilate's brother (because his brother Barry took that role in Jesus Christ Superstar), explained his own surprising career path to inner-city ministry in London (much of it in Kennington) by quoting an unlikely and rather sweary Southern Baptist pastor.

This gentleman had replied to a young man's question about why he had become a minister: "Because I was called, yer damn' fool." And, of course, the point of the story was that the rest of us are called, too.


Sun 22 May @ 04:29
Christians are harder to spot in UK - but more people are willing to hear about faith, survey finds https://t.co/Y5PeQkls3Q

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