I WAS invited to dinner at the National Liberal Club. I’d noticed the rather imposing Victorian building by Embankment Station, with its little freestanding cupola on an outside terrace, many times before, but had never twigged what it was.
I had been invited to one of their clergy dinners by an old friend (thanks, Ed), and was excited as I walked up the steps into the majolica-encrusted hallway.
Built in the heyday of political Liberalism, it was designed to house the whole Party in one sitting; much is now rented out, but there are still impressive bars, meeting rooms, and dining halls, presided over by numerous portraits of Gladstone looking portentous, not to mention the occasional modern interloper, including Jeremy Thorpe and Paddy Ashdown. Alas, I searched in vain for Nick Clegg.
Anyway, the booze flowed freely, and the dinner itself was splendid, with convivial company to boot. But the best thing was the after-dinner speaker, the wonderful Prebendary Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Chaplain to the Speaker of the House of Commons.
Originally from Montego Bay, Jamaica, she joined the Church Army, later becoming a priest in inner-city Hackney before moving to St Mary-at-Hill, in the City. She became Speaker’s Chaplain some five years ago. It was fascinating to hear what the post entailed: the daily prayers in the Chamber, the weekly eucharist, and the hatching, matching, and despatching within the parliamentary community, like any other parish priest.
It was heartening to hear of the importance that faith still has in the Mother of Parliaments, and heartening to hear of the cross-party prayer groups, and people seeking to root their political life in a deeper spiritual reality. I loved the way she was breaking out of the role, too, refusing simply to use the well-worn set prayers.
“Your prayers are real,” one Member commented, with some surprise.
“Well, of course they are,” she had responded.
Authenticity at the heart of government: maybe there’s hope, after all.
Faith in the future
ONE of the Brighton and Hove Council officials (Head of Corporate Policy, Scrutiny and Communities) was leaving, and I went to his farewell do. Nothing exciting in that, you might say; but it was quite extraordinary. The Mayor had offered to hold a reception in her parlour, but the numbers of people who wanted to come grew and grew; so it was transferred to the council chamber itself.
The Mayor presided, and the Lord Lieutenant of East Sussex gave a speech; most of the councillors, from all parties, were there, as were representatives of community groups and charities from all areas of our city’s life, the whole event unrolling to a backdrop of photos from Richard’s past, including Brighton Pride, and a shot of a knees-up (I swear) with the Duchess of Alba.
Why is this of any interest to Church Times readers, you may ask? Well, after unwrapping his obligatory picture of Brighton Pavilion, he opened his other present: a voucher for the clerical outfitters Vanpoulles, for him to buy his first alb. He is giving up a significant and effective career to train as a priest at Westcott, in Cambridge.
His valedictory speech morphed from the secular to a sermon based on a modern version of 1 Corinthians 13. Love, he said, was the basis for our corporate life, and love in action was the basis for public service. He was applauded to the echo at what was the most benign and positive meeting I have ever been to in that room — and, as Mayor’s Chaplain, I’ve been to a fair number.
He will, I am sure, be a hugely effective priest; but I can’t help feeling that he will be a real loss to the city as a Christian presence at the heart of its institutional life. Lucky the parish that gets him.
THE phone rang: the voice on the other end was querulous. “I haven’t had the baptism forms yet,” the girl said. “All the invites have gone out; it’s less than a month to the day; you said you’d send the forms, and you haven’t.”
I apologised profusely. My administrative skills can, I know, be a bit hit-and-miss, and I am more than capable of such an oversight. I looked at the date in the diary: nothing. My heart sank: it was a hugely busy Sunday, with special services and a parish lunch to boot, and an added midday baptism would be a bit of a logistical nightmare.
I looked in the baptism-booking file — again, nothing. It was all a bit odd. I asked when she had contacted us, and she gave me her address. I searched in my email account: still nothing. I asked whom she had contacted.
“Angela,” she said. “We had about four emails about it”.
The penny began to drop: we don’t have an Angela. I asked for the email address she had contacted, and noted that it ended in “au”. I searched for it online, and found what she’d done. Bless her, she had booked a baptism in St Andrew’s, Brighton, Victoria, Australia.
I contacted their office to let them know. They had noticed the UK email address, but many people keep them, apparently; so they hadn’t thought anything of it. “A little far to come for a baptism,” was their dry comment.
Modern technology can be a deceptively easy slippery slope.
The Revd John Wall is Team Rector in the Moulsecoomb Team Ministry in Brighton, East Sussex.