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15 May 2015


Political lament

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 and hospitals."

That really is a reform agenda to keep the C of E occupied.

Norwich notes

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 Jeremy Haselock.

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.



Missionary's story

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 field.

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.


Sun 26 Jun @ 03:48
Photo story: Music and mission https://t.co/NjVA6RMLIy

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