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16 October 2015


Behind the wire

YOU don’t have to be French to be a soft touch for a cathédrale engloutie, a domaine perdu, and all that sort of thing. Even phlegmatic Brits love trooping round Fountains Abbey, and get misty-eyed over Thornfield and Manderley, and even Charles Ryder returning to Brideshead.

Rose Macaulay analysed this in her book The Pleasure of Ruins. I have to say I feel similarly about the Scouts’ little office in our church hall. After the example of Miss Havisham’s wedding breakfast, it is not much changed from the day the last Scout hung up his woggle.

Norwich is a city where this mood can be freely indulged, being blessed with many more churches than it has churchpeople nowadays to fill them. By chance, my visit coincided with a group of Heritage Open Days, which encouraged me to snoop about the city.

Particularly enjoyable was an exhibition in St Peter’s, Hungate — a church I don’t think I had ever been in before — now in the parish of St George’s, Tombland.

St Peter’s is an almost bare medieval church used as an exhibition centre. If you think that melancholy, that’s only the half of it: it was showing paintings by Gerard Stamp and Matthew Flintham of the parish churches in six villages of Breckland, abandoned in 1942 when the War Office wanted to create a battle-training area before D-Day.

With their details of church doors standing open behind barbed wire, bunched-up pews, broken Victorian stained glass, and deserted sanctuaries, these paintings did evoke a sense of holiness not entirely extinguished, and the march of time abruptly stilled.

The Priest-in-Charge of St George’s had dropped in to encourage the volunteers while I was there. His church, which is far from bare, was being manned by a gentleman whom I heard starting to explain its accoutrements to a couple of other visitors. I thought that, being on holiday from the ecclesiological atmosphere of the Church Times, I could be excused on this occasion for abandoning St George’s, too.


Chapel for a change

SO I continued exploring, past the memorial to Edith Cavell, and ended up calling on the Unitarian and Congregationalist chapels at the more rakish end of town. Dissent is a very prevalent East Anglian thing — you can blame those tithes, I suppose, and wonder at what it led to across the Pond. Indeed, a couple of generations ago, my Norfolk relatives were Strict Baptists (whose village chapel is still open).

The Congregationalists are one thing, of course, tucked away down their leafy loke. Unitarians are, I suppose, a step further away from our Established verities, though it may not have seemed so when the big division was “chapel” v. “church”. Their history is long and venerable, and their Norwich chapel, the Octagon, is fascinating.

A little history display reminded me of the Rajah Rammohun Roy, an Indian religious and social reformer who ended up in England, and in bed (so to speak) with the Unitarians, when things got too hot for him back home. He died prematurely of meningitis. He must have visited Norwich, and his Unitarian beliefs not been viewed as any great scandal, as my great-grandmother once drew his likeness (which was, unfortunately, later given away).

If he visited now, he would find the Octagon convenient, not only for the many alluring secondhand shops in Magdalen Street, but also for the variety of international grocers. Someone might have to explain about a branch of “Roy’s”.


No cold collation

IT WAS a smart move at St Andrew’s, Holborn, in London, to have the new Guild Vicar, who also happens to be the Bishop of Fulham, collated and installed on the feast of Our Lady of Walsingham.

Both the churchwardens — known as the wardens of the Upper and Lower Liberties, and both, indeed, celebrating their liberty now that they have come off the General Synod — have Walsingham connections. John Booth is a Guardian of the Shrine, and Sue Johns is Norfolk born and bred.

So the Marian hymns helped to impart some warmth to a part of the service that can sometime freeze to death in its own legalese. In what must be an unusual role-reversal, the London Bishops’ Vicar General, the Ven. Nick Mercer, remembered not to tell the Suffragan Bishop, the Rt Revd Jonathan Baker, that his cure of souls was “both mine and yours”, but “his [the Bishop of London’s] and yours”.

How often, in my experience, when a new incumbent rings the church bell to signify possession of the benefice, do those words about sending not to know for whom the bell tolls not only come to mind, but also turn out to be appropriate, within a matter of weeks or months, as the laity start to take their leave one by one, like the von Trapps.

This, however, struck me as a more promising occasion, and the bell turned out to be one of those tinkling sacristy-type bells that help to alert the organist at the beginning of the service, and was rung in the pattern of the Angelus. I think St Andrew’s knows what it is getting.

The Revd Mark Young is staying on as Associate Vicar. If Bishop Baker really does see his predecessor Henry Sacheverell, who provoked a riot and brought down a government, as his role-model, there will be someone to pick up the pieces. Fr Young has the right experience.


Having a ball

WE NO longer publish submitted verse — Nurse Cavell’s death prompted us to do so, but that was then — and this is our firm line. But Christine Buffrey sent us a poem contra excess at the Peace, and I can’t resist quoting two couplets:

The Peace is not the peace at all
When the Church erupts and has a ball. . .
In the beautiful Eucharist a sudden burst of action
Makes The Peace a time of dissatisfaction.


Pope Benedict XVI and his successor have said much the same thing, but not so well.

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