THE Salisbury Journal had a scoop on its hands this week, with its news that the former Canon Precentor of Salisbury Cathedral, the Revd Jeremy Davies, has been banned by the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Tim Dakin, from conducting services in the neighbouring diocese because of his marriage to his long-term partner, the opera singer Simon McEnery.
The decision came even though Canon Davies has been ordained for 43 years, has been at Salisbury for 30, and, indeed, has conducted services in Winchester Cathedral since his marriage — and had been due to take more.
It means that, while he remains a priest in good standing at Pitton and Middle Winterslow, as soon as he crosses the border into West Tytherley he can no longer be heard. The Journal included a statement from Winchester that Mr Davies’s “application has been unsuccessful”, which made it sound as if he had been applying to polish the pews.
What was most interesting was how little interest most of the national papers took in the story. The Mirror and the Telegraph followed it, and The Guardian had a few paragraphs a couple of days later. Perhaps they have just grown bored with the Church of England’s endless, increasingly absurd, tergiversations over the gay issue, or don’t expect any better from the institution. What a great example the Church sets at this season of welcome.
PERHAPS, indeed, it is all over, as the Telegraph predicted, based on a report by a sociologist at Goldsmiths, Dr Abby Day, that the generation of “silver ladies”, those dauntless spirits who keep many parishes going, are dying out. “Generation A” she calls them, and Dr Day spent months mingling with the tribe for her researches, because they are “uniformly suspicious and tired of surveys” (Features, 7 February 2014).
The Telegraph has long been aware of that declining demographic in its own ageing readership — a five-per-cent drop over the past year, selling not even half the papers it did 30 years ago.
Dr Day certainly seems to have entered into the spirit of things, attending parish lunches, jubilee events, and house parties, without disclosing what it did to her waistline. The Telegraph quoted her saying: “The types of food prepared, or, increasingly, bought as the women’s energy faltered, were mainly resonant of that generation: prawn cocktails, coronation chicken, cheese on sticks, trifle.” Did those who welcomed her know she was studying a dying breed?
THAT brings us to Donald Trump, a sleek-headed man, although, unlike Cassius, lacking the lean and hungry look, but still riding roughshod over the Republican Party’s other presidential candidates.
His remarks about banning Muslims certainly brought him the worldwide publicity he evidently craves. Will it suit the religious Right, whose support he may eventually need? They have proved flexible in the past, preferring the divorced Ronald Reagan to the Sunday-school teacher Jimmy Carter.
But how about The Donald, who has averred that the Bible only just beats his own Good Book, The Art of the Deal, and who talks about “drinking my little wine and having my little cracker” when he does occasionally go to church. Perhaps Trump really is the Manchurian candidate, seeking to bring down not only the Republican Party, but the Religious Right, one brick at a time.
That insight has not prevented some leading Evangelicals’ rallying to his cause: The Washington Post reported Franklin Graham, the son of the saintly Billy, saying that he had been arguing the same as Trump for months. But a serious study of the candidate’s theology remains to be conducted. There may yet be hope: even the Southern Baptist Convention described Trump’s remarks about Muslims as “reckless demagogic rhetoric”.
The Post’s media reporter, however, quoted an assistant professor of information studies: “If Trump is using poor sources for his information, that isn’t really a problem for his audience. That is where they are getting their information, too.” Another professor in the same article said: “Facts may be undervalued, or losing their value in today’s world. If you say it loud enough or long enough, people will believe it. That’s okay in theory, but when people act on it, that’s a problem.”
THE OBSERVER had a good piece by Sarah Hughes about Tyson Fury, and where the boxer’s own strange faith comes from. Some Irish traveller families are apparently moving away from Roman Catholicism towards Evangelical Pentecostalism, including tented convention meetings described as “like Stow horse fair without the horses”.
Pastor Jackie Boyd, of the Light and Life Gypsy Church, said: “In the UK, we’re even getting a lot of committed Christians who are . . . seeing the failing churches and come to us to find a place spreading the word of God.” He reported, though, that Fury had yet to darken his tent flap.
Stephen Bates is a former religious-affairs correspondent of The Guardian.