Going out on a Low
I HAVE just got back from holiday. It was my post-Easter
holiday, in fact, but rather delayed. My training incumbent always
said to me that one should never take Easter Week off, because
everyone thinks you're on holiday after Easter anyway; so they
don't bother you, and you can have a quiet week. Then take a week
off after that, he said.
Being a model training incumbent, I defer, of course, to my
assistant curate - who took Low Week off. I am not sure that we're
allowed to call it Low Week any more, given that Rome seems to call
the Sunday "Divine Mercy Sunday" (for pious reasons connected with
an entirely tasteless picture of our Lord with rainbow colours
coming out of his heart, I seem to recall), and, in the C of E, Low
Week sounds a bit unmissional.
Perhaps there will be a strategy to encourage us to reconnect
with the youth by calling it Really Super-Duper Exciting Week.
Perhaps, on the other hand, I'm just being eaten up by
AFTER Super-Duper Week, we then had to prepare for a
confirmation; so my holiday was delayed a little longer. I have had
a gift in recent years for arranging a confirmation to coincide
with atrocious weather, so that everyone gets soaked on the
procession from the vestry to the west door. This year was a
pleasing exception, and we were able to walk into church unmolested
I have decided this was entirely due to Pope Francis. Before you
put this newspaper down in disgust at such craven submission to
every manner of detestable enormity, I should say that there is
method in my madness.
Our confirming bishop was the Assistant Bishop in Peterborough,
the Rt Revd John Flack. He is a man who has a great deal to answer
for, given that he both confirmed me and recommended me for
ordination. Possibly as a punishment for that recommendation, he
was shortly afterwards exiled to Italy as Our Man in Rome.
I suspect that, once in Rome, one makes permanent friends; for,
only a few days before our confirmation, Bishop John, now retired,
was in the Eternal City once more, and meeting the present Pope.
The Holy Father asked him what he was up to, and he informed him
that he would be confirming at Santa Maria Minore in Cambridge next
week. Delighted, Pope Francis told him to give us his blessing.
This Bishop John duly did - and the weather turned out
I know he is not supposed to have any jurisdiction in this realm
of England, but I will happily give the Supreme Pontiff control of
the skies if he can pull off that kind of result. I think we can
state that ecumenism has taken a small but very British step
forward in the CB2 postal district. If Archbishop David Moxon (the
present Apocrisarius to the Holy See) could have a word before next
year's confirmation, I'd be immensely grateful.
The way we were
THE confirmation over, I finally escaped and decided to visit
clergy friends around the country. Midway through my progress, I
visited a friend who, besides being a parish priest, teaches
ordinands. Fascinated to see the high-quality theological formation
offered by the modern Church, I joined him one evening for a
Quite rightly, the ordinands in all the various classes gathered
together first for prayer. When I was at theological college, we
did outdated things like kneeling, and using restrictive and
uncreative forms of devotion such as Common Worship and
the Book of Common Prayer. All terribly undemanding. Only if we
were really lucky would we be allowed to sit cross-legged in an
ordinand's small bedsit, singing a Taizé chant around a
NOTHING restrictive or lily-livered now, however. The keen
ordinand in charge of the prayers, after some dangerously
old-fashioned reading from the Bible, got us all to stand and lift
our arms up in the air in a V-shape in order to "show receptivity".
We then had to keep them there while he read a meditation.
Clearly, candidates for Holy Orders today are made of strong
stuff; for this was not a few sentences but a very lengthy
meditation indeed, and was obviously part of the training process
to weed out the physically weak whose arms would not be able to
maintain a talent-pool breaststroke. Clever work, I thought.
There was then an examination of gravitas. A priest, as you
know, needs to be able to remain solemn and serious amid all
provocation, and so the trainee cleric leading us naturally decided
to use some phrases that would test us (remember, our arms are up
in the air, full of receptivity, during this). We were urged to ask
the Holy Spirit to come over the "frigid tundra" of our lives and
make us like "frolicking brown bears".
Only those of tough metal, who were destined for the deep end of
the talent pool, could hear this unflinching. This was a wise
strategy; for already a priest next to me had begun to shake. It
could have been an anticipatory frolic, I admit, but it is probable
that he was a weak and unworthy man who had got through the
ordination process in the bad old days before these insightful new
tests were introduced.
After this, we were invited to bend over and let our arms point
towards the floor and feel the pull of God's love on us; finally,
we were told to sit and hug ourselves as a further reminder of what
a poppet the Lord is. Physical as well as spiritual suppleness is
the order of the day in the Welby era, it seems.
Strangely, my neighbour (who had been shaking) was now making
strange noises, as if trying to suppress something. I imagine it
was a cry of shame that he was not worthy of the Olympian feats of
contortion demanded of the ordinands of 2015. Suffice it to say
that I completed my holiday in awe of those preparing for ministry
in the contemporary Church. I also found myself in need of a good
The Revd Robert Mackley is Vicar of Little St Mary's,