IT IS never too late to mend, we are told; and now, when some of
the Bishops appear to have concluded that their advice was not
universally heeded in the polling booths last week, what better
time to sit down in one's study with Ian Robinson's A Lenten
Pleynte to the English Bishops (Edgeways Books, www.edgewaysbooks.com, £1;
978-0-9567048-4-9)? Rather oddly, it was embargoed to Maundy
Thursday, when bishops tend to have a lot on.
Historically minded readers will recognise a pamphleteer at
work: here are 16 traditionally designed pages of argumentativeness
directed at the Bishops' pronouncements On Rock or Sand?
and Who is my Neighbour?, and referring repeatedly to
their "Encyclical" - a usage of which the Church Times in
its Anglo-Catholic fighting days would certainly have approved.
"Even if the Bishops are not speaking ex cathedra they
are still explicitly addressing us as Bishops, and it seems fair to
test their advice by the standard of Christianity. . . As a layman
with no theological authority I am embarrassed as well as
scandalised to notice that the Bishops are not reliably orthodox,"
writes the author, who doubts whether they have really grasped the
essence of prophetic ministry.
He notes that the encyclical did not include the words
"righteous, commandment, misery, miserable, charity, avarice,
blessed, blessedness, loyalty, godly, selfish, evil", and
reckons that the Bishops should have taken the stand that "the
governing party has no right to contradict the Church's
marriage law, whatever the public opinion".
If you think that such a stand would have been a little late in
the day, in view of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857, that has
nothing on his strictures concerning the welfare state: "As far as
material welfare goes, the sick and infirm and elderly should not
merely be given a safety net; as Piers Plowman demands, they should
'ete whete brede and drynke with myselve;' and if the state cannot
organise old folks' homes without cruely to the residents, they
should be returned to the Church, which invented both almshouses
That really is a reform agenda to keep the C of E occupied.
LISTENERS to Radio 4 Extra who have been enjoying weekly repeats
of the comedy All Gas and Gaiters, which was adapted from
the TV screenplays in the early 1970s, will recall the horror of
the Bishop of St Ogg's and his friend the Archdeacon at the
excessive length of an anthem, "Rejoice", much favoured by their
regular antagonist the Dean.
The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham James, is clearly not
taking any chances with his Bishop's Prize for Music. "Competitors
are asked to compose a short anthem, not lasting more than 5
minutes, setting a short text from a choice of three chosen by
Bishop Graham," say the rules.
He has chosen three texts from St John's Gospel, two of them "I
am" sayings, and one the commandment to love one another; and
composers need to get cracking, if they haven't already, because
the deadline for submissions is 30 June. There are three categories
for entrants: under-12s, 13-15-year-olds, and 16-18s.
I do wonder whether the texts on offer provide quite enough
scope for young composers whose gifts lean towards the dramatic. I
suppose you could do something with "I lay down my life for the
sheep"; but is the Bishop in danger of encouraging a tendency
towards the mellifluous?
The judges are Ben Parry and Betty Roe, both composers; Alison
Cox, head of composition at The Purcell School; Ashley Grote, the
cathedral's Master of Music; and the Vice-Dean and Precentor, Canon
I last experienced contemporary church music in Norwich
Cathedral nearly 30 years ago, when I strayed into the Festival of
Contemporary Church Music and heard several strenuously modernist
pieces in the context of ASB Evening Prayer, a rite that the Church
of England as a whole never took to its heart. The entire thing
would probably have killed the Bishop of St Ogg's.
MARION BARTLETT, of the College of St Barnabas, Lingfield, in
Surrey, has written a missionary doctor's memoirs that, I think,
many of our readers would enjoy. It is certainly a nice long read,
at more than 350 pages, with evocative photos from the mission
What caught my eye to start with was a glimpse into the world of
Anglican missionary societies in the 1940s. Although the author
started out with Evangelical connections, a weekend with the famous
general secretary of CMS Max Warren and his wife "convinced us all
that I was not right for CMS". Surgery was essential for a
missionary doctor, and so the author trained in London while she
lodged with an Anglo-Catholic priest in Walworth.
Then, "rarin' to go", she presented herself to what was then the
Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, only to
be told that they wanted her to spend a year in Selly Oak. So she
headed to the Universities' Mission to Central Africa (UMCA), at
Central Africa House, where she was told: "Sorry, we haven't got
the right sort of job for a doctor with your qualifications."
The Lord, however, spoke, as he no doubt had on occasion since
the days of Frank Weston, through a telegram from the Bishop of
Zanzibar to the general secretary of UMCA: "ACCEPT PHILLIPS [the
author's maiden name] SURGEON ZANZIBAR."
Later, in 1966, Miss Phillips changed her name to Bartlett, in
the days when Trevor Huddleston was the Bishop of Masasi: her
husband, who died in 1998, was Canon David Bartlett, Vicar General
of Zanzibar & Tanga. Her book tells us almost as much about his
ministry as it does about her own work and her colleagues, and the
people, animals, and insects of Eastern Africa.
The author started the book in her late eighties, and completed
it when she was nearly 91. The print (colour) edition of
Surgeon or Jack of All Trades: A mission doctor in Tanganyika,
1949-1990 is available for £19 plus £3 p&p from the Revd
Timothy Fox, 40 Lakeber Avenue, Bentham, Lancaster LA2 7JN (cheques
payable to "Marion J. Bartlett"). There is also a black-and white
online edition for £12.