"THERE is a religious angle to the holiday," as a news editor
once explained to me when demanding that I produce something to put
in the emptying pages at Christmas time. The trouble is that very
little newsy happens in church around then - nor should it; so all
credit to Jonathan Petre for finding a completely original
His story, based around a private member's motion at the next
General Synod, ran under a classic headline: "Vicars defrocked!
Fears of jeans and hoodies as Synod votes to decide if clergy's
robes are surplice to requirements". This almost makes the trifecta
of a diary story, which should contain a joke, a fact, and a
mistake. All it lacks is the fact.
The copy, though, is superb: "Never mind the cassocks - vicars
could soon be conducting services in shell-suits, shorts or even
football shirts under radical plans to overturn centuries of Church
"Rules requiring the clergy to don traditional vestments are set
to be swept aside as part of a 'makeover' designed to make services
more relevant to modern congregations.
"If the Church of England Synod approves the reforms, vicars
could wear whatever they deem appropriate for all their services
-including weddings, baptisms and funerals."
Later, however, comes the touch that lifts this up to journalism
of the very highest class. Anyone - well, anyone with the Mail
on Sunday's lunch budget - could get an anonymous "senior
synod member" to say, as Jonathan did, "soon they will be wearing
shell- suits in the sacristy". But it took a master to write the
"Even leading liberal and Thought For The Day
contributor the Rev Giles Fraser, whose normal attire is jeans and
a T-shirt, said: 'It's outrageous. Is nothing sacred?'"
I don't think that Giles is often seen wearing anything as
formal as a pair of jeans.
THERE were uplifting stories, too: in The Guardian, a
lovely piece from Helen Pidd, in Bradford, about the way in which
Muslims have helped to rescue the city's orthodox synagogue. There
are only 45 members, and their building is falling down. And there
is a long history, of course, of Jewish suspicion of Muslim
anti-Semitism in the city.
"Since the last race riots in the city in 2001, there has been
no sign to mark the building. 'We didn't want to be the cause of
potential trouble, so we took the plaque down over ten years ago,'
said [Rabbi] Leavor, who said there was an incident a few years ago
when one man left the synagogue wearing his kippah, or skull cap,
and was spat at by two Pakistani men passing in a car."
Yet there is now co-operation in fund-raising, and Muslims and
Jews share meals on holy days; and when the rabbi goes on holiday,
he leaves the key to the synagogue with the secretary of the local
THE other Muslim news was much less cheerful. A long piece by
Patrick Cockburn in The Independent dealt with the threat
of a civil war between Shia and Sunni engulfing the whole of the
Middle East. It contained one perfectly horrible atrocity which
seems to have escaped much comment: "At the beginning of December,
al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula killed 53 doctors and nurses and
wounded 162 in an attack on a hospital in Sanaa, the capital of
Yemen, which had been threatened for not taking care of wounded
militants by a commentator on an extreme Sunni satellite TV
I find this worse than the bombing of churches, because the
targeted killing of doctors has the explicit aim of killing more of
your enemies, as everyone the doctor might have saved will now be
at a greater risk of death themselves.
MORE cheering was the skirmish between Rowan Williams and Iain
Duncan Smith. The Economist's comment is well worth
"It's probably fair to say that this little spat will enhance
the [former] archbishop's personal standing and do the opposite for
Mr Duncan Smith. But think for a moment about why the
archbishop-turned-academic commands respectful attention now.
"If he were still the holder of a great ecclesiastical office,
occupying a palace on the banks of the Thames, people might react
as some do to political comments by members of the royal family:
why should we listen to political prescriptions from a person who
enjoys prominence only because of a quirk of history?"
Cheering for Rowan, that is. A challenge for those bishops still