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Diary

18 December 2015

ISTOCK

Aye, aye, Captain

“MY NAME is Captain Jack Sparrow, and I’m going to take you to the Black Pearl!” the 18-inch plastic statue, standing on the coffin, said.

I was halfway through a funeral talk, and was a little taken aback, to say the least. The lady whose funeral I was leading had herself been quite a character. Although well into her eighties, she had been a devotee of horror and action films, and TV series — the gorier the better. Indeed, I had been reliably informed that she was going to meet her maker wearing her favourite “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” T-shirt, although halfway through the service there was some vocal dispute about this.

At Christmas time, in the face of a TV onslaught of seasonal saccharine, she was well known for declaring “It’s that bloody Sound of Music again! I want Arnie or Bruce Willis.” But her favourite series of all was the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, thus explaining the unexpected resin figurine in pride of place on the catafalque.

Unfortunately, its voice activation had not been turned off, hence its querulous intejection as I was standing next to the coffin giving the tribute. I shifted my ground a bit, and all was well until the committal, when, after “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” he suddenly chimed in with the question: “I must know, will you take commands from a pirate?”

I wouldn’t, though, let the last word go to a dodgy buccaneer, but rather to a different sort of wanderer on the earth, Cardinal Newman: “O Lord, support us all the day long of this troublous life, until the evening comes, the shadows lengthen, and the busy world is hushed. . .”

 

Going Dutch

A FEW weeks ago, I led a Quiet Day in Utrecht, in Holland. I had been invited at the suggestion of the lovely Trevor and Karin Whitfield, for whom I’d done the same sort of thing in their church in Paris (Trevor has just retired from being the splendidly titled Area Dean of France). I was looked after with huge generosity by the Chaplain, the Revd David Phillips, and it was great fun.

On the day, I talked about objects in the Rijksmuseum, in Amsterdam: a statue (mercifully, not of Jack Sparrow, but this time of the Mater Dolorosa, the Grieving Virgin); and three paintings, one of which was Rembrandt’s blockbuster The Night Watch. I was horribly aware that talking to a largely Dutch group about this painting was rather like lecturing an Italian audience on the Sistine Chapel, and the more research I had done on it, the more I realised that I was very much the fool rushing in where hosts of angels had feared to tread.

Nevertheless, it seemed to go well, and the people who came were enthusiastic and engaged: we had a good time together, my singular inability to pronounce Dutch names causing much amusement on the way.

 

Religious movement

IT WAS, though, the Sunday afterwards that intrigued me most. I preached at the 9-a.m. service in Dutch (I mean the service was, not my sermon), and then the 11-a.m. eucharist. The place was packed, with extra chairs and standing room only — a somewhat novel experience for an English vicar on a normal Sunday.

Holy Trinity is a little gem of a building, founded by two expat British families in the 19th century, although these days there are few British in the congregation — most are Dutch seekers who find Anglicanism the answer to their search.

The biggest group were the Catholic Apostolics, of whom I had heard, although I had never encountered them. Their Church began in England in 1831: Apostles were appointed, bishops, priests, and deacons, and, by the turn of the 20th century, there were some 1000 congregations all over the world, endowed with enormous and beautiful church buildings.

When the Apostles died, however, they appointed no more, and gradually all the clergy died out, too, the last priest dying in 1971, and the last deacon in 1972. Since then, they have come to other Churches, such as ours, as a source of sacraments, while carrying on their own life with fellowships and prayer groups.

Their youth work is flourishing: they hold annual young people’s and children’s holiday camps. It made me think of Judaism after the destruction of the Temple: their cultic centre gone, synagogues formed instead, and grew.

In Utrecht, such is the need for a bigger church, they are soon going to plant a new congregation in a redundant Roman Catholic building in the nearby town of Amersfoort. I will watch with interest to see how it goes.

From a wandering pirate seeking a fictional Black Pearl to a wandering congregation seeking the Pearl of Great Price — the Anglicans have room for all.

 

The Revd John Wall is Team Rector in the Moulsecoomb Team Ministry in Brighton.

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