Neighbour and friend
OUR Archdeacon is retiring. I don't mean he has a shy
disposition (although he does have a pleasingly English manner),
but that he is ceasing paid work. In many ways he has earned it;
for, surely, being an archdeacon is a thankless task? Unless you
have a devotion to administration and faculty applications, it is
presumably a position where a great deal of your time is spent
doing things you find irksome, or at least tedious.
That said, there are days in a parish priest's life which would
answer to that description; so I should tread carefully. I say "in
many ways" he has earned it, because, before he was my archdeacon,
many moons ago, he was my diocesan director of ordinands, and so
has a lot to answer for.
Fifteen years on, I do not remember much about the process other
than a number of thoroughly pleasant and interesting chats about
faith, vocation, and theology with a charming and intelligent
priest who was kindly taking an interest in a rather gauche
Now I'm a vocations adviser, and seeing all these criteria,
complicated forms, and many demanding interviews, I am convinced
that if I entered the process today I would never get through.
Not only is he my Archdeacon and former DDO, but he is also my
next-door neighbour, my vicarage having been built in his garden -
with his permission, I hasten to add - a few years ago. I have
benefited from his vocational guidance, his archidiaconal wisdom,
and, no less usefully, eggs from the archidiaconal chickens in the
Ready for action
I COULD hardly miss, therefore, the opportunity to say thank you
and farewell which the diocese afforded me with his leaving service
at the cathedral a few weeks ago.
All was looking promising: this was not some awful fabricated
liturgy with affirmations of this, that, and the other, and
children bringing up symbols of his ministry; this was evensong,
with plenty of lovely music by Gibbons, the Rose responses, and a
hymn written by the Archdeacon (which, unfashionably, did not have
the word "I" in it, or talk about "us", but praised God).
My churchwardens, being canny souls concerned about traffic, had
set off early; so we arrived at the cathedral 45 minutes before the
service was due to commence.
I asked the nice verger where the clergy were to robe, and I was
directed to the Old Library. It was at this point that I should
have smelled a rat, but didn't; for the Old Library was by no means
a large room. Anyway, I put on my choir habit, sorted out the folds
of my hood correctly, arranged my tippet tidily on top, and awaited
Right time, wrong place
IT WAS not long before a group of older,
distinguished-if-slightly-battered priests arrived and togged up
(it turned out that they were the honorary canons). We exchanged
pleasantries, and then three Lutheran ministers popped their heads
round the door, representing the German inter-Church link that the
Archdeacon had looked after. They duly donned their ruffs and
gowns, and we smiled ecumenically at one another.
It was at this stage that I began to wonder where the rest of
the diocesan clergy were. Just then, more clergy arrived, and I
looked up, hoping to see a colleague or two whom I recognised, only
to find it was a group of former and neighbouring archdeacons.
They assumed their copes of many colours, and exchanged a few
witticisms about visitations and troublesome rural deans. It was
then that I decided, somewhat nervously, that the time had come to
advance towards the door to find asteward, and ask where the lesser
clergy were assembling, because it seemed quite clear to me that it
I was, however, beaten to it by a verger who now opened the door
in front of me - not with the look of one in search of stray junior
clergy, but one with wand in hand and ready for the off.
"What do I do?" I asked rather feebly. "I think I'm in the wrong
room. I'm not an archdeacon or an honorary canon."
"Don't worry," she replied cheerfully, "just slot in between
So I did. The door opened wide, the organ had struck up, and off
we went, me thinking that if time and a discreet moment behind a
pillar allowed, I would find the other clergy procession and leap
over and slot myself in.
IT WAS at this moment, however, that, looking about the
cathedral, I realised that there was only one other procession: the
Dean and Chapter, together with the retiring Archdeacon and the
Bishop. I realised with dawning horror that diocesan clergy were
obviously not supposed to robe at all, and I had misremembered the
It was, however, too late to do anything else but carry on. The
hymn had begun, we were moving, and all eyes were on us as we
slipped in behind the cross, lights, and choir, and began our
stately progress up the nave. As we passed the chapter and
episcopal processions waiting to add themselves on behind us, I
could not help but sense - maybe I imagined it - the Bishop's
Chaplain looking at me with a quizzically raised eyebrow.
We took our seats, one or two unrobed clergy smiled in a "Why
are you dressed up?" sort of way, and evensong was offered with
that plaintive elegiac beauty that has sustained the Church of
England through many a long period of vicissitude and brouhaha.
Afterwards, the archdeacons chatted away to me, assuming that I
was an honorary canon, and the honorary canons chatted away to me,
assuming I was someone who should be there, and being far too
polite to ask who on earth I was.
The Archdeacon and the Bishop's Chaplain were mightily amused,
and I felt a complete buffoon; but 99 per cent of everyone else
neither noticed nor cared. It struck methat joining in random
cathedral processions could be a means of whiling away my time when
retirement eventually comes (I'll look much more like an honorary
canon then), and, given that no one noticed me this time, when I
stuck out like a sore thumb, in the future it should be a sight
When the next Archdeacon retires - they're interviewing for a
replacement as I type - I'll be sure to pop along again. In the
mean time, if you see an out-of-place cleric in a procession near
you, there's a chance it could be me getting some practice in.
The Revd Robert Mackley is Vicar of Little St Mary's,