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10 June 2016


Hats and slacks
I’VE been writing this diary for more than 20 years, but I’ve finally discovered the subject that provokes the greatest amount of correspondence — ladies’ hats and trousers in church (Diary, 15 April). Letters and emails picked up the topic.

Not a single one of my correspondents disagreed with the decision 75 years ago to ease women’s consciences about going hatless into holy worship, but many were the stories of its consequences.

In the same way, no one objected to their wearing trousers in church. Instead, I was challenged by one woman to try wearing a pair of ladies’ trousers in order to appreciate that, whatever else they were, they certainly weren’t “men’s apparel”.


Rural revolution
THE most fascinating letter, however, came from a 90-year-old lady, Margaret Mortimer, whose father was Vicar of Brewood, in Lichfield diocese, in the 1930s. Young women visiting his church who arrived hatless borrowed their boyfriends’ large handkerchiefs and draped them over their hair before entering church giggling. To put an end to this ridiculous situation, her father had a notice made and framed, which was hung inside the main door. It read: “The Vicar has no objection to ladies entering this church without hats, provided they conduct themselves reverently.”

As his daughter pointed out, this was quite revolutionary in 1936. In those days, women even put a hat on to go in to church to clean the brass.

While there were no objections to hatless women or trousers, there was a distinct group whose sartorial scruples were offended by other items of clothing. The male wearing of shorts in church was one. “I find it very distracting to be offered the chalice by a man whose knobbly knees and hairy legs are directly in my eye-line,” said one woman. As for trainers appearing beneath cassocks — the very idea seems to some to be even worse than clerical brown boots.


Rising stops Synod
I REGULARLY receive a complimentary copy of The Church of Ireland Gazette, which I always read with interest. Last month, it included a full reproduction of their issue of 28 April to 5 May 1916.

This was an important moment in Irish history. Not only was it almost exactly halfway through the Great War, in which vast numbers of young Irishmen served and many died, but it was also the date of the Easter Rising in Dublin. The centenary of the latter event has, of course, been duly marked by the media, and identified as the first contractions that eventually led to the birth of the Republic.

The Gazette, however, true to its ecclesiastical provenance, reported less significant but fascinating by-products of the violence. One of them was that the Irish General Synod had to be cancelled (“manifestly impossible . . . for clergy and laity from the provinces” to get to Dublin). During Morning Prayer, there was gunfire on the steps of Christ Church, Leeson Park, and the service had to be abandoned. The Bishop of Tuam’s car was commandeered by the rebels to be used in a barricade (it was later “politely” returned), and the Synod Hall was briefly occupied by “Sinn Feiners”, who sniped at the troops from its windows.

On the whole, however, the Gazette was “proud to record that the people of Ireland’s capital were worthy of their saviours from the horrors of revolution”.


Business as usual
AS USUAL, the small ads reminded us that day-to-day life still went on. A “Protestant Country Girl, or Woman, cleanly, respectable”, was wanted for the kitchen of a “quiet country vicarage” in Co. Down. And keen Protestants aged 25 to 35 were invited to enlist for “Mission Work in London parishes”.

Perhaps more alluring was the advertisement for domestic servants to go and work in New Zealand. “Rich country”, it said, “fine climate, good wages and work waiting”. The fare to the other side of the world was £2.16s. (£2.80), which could be “advanced if required”.

The notice might have added a further incentive: “No Zeppelins, and no bullets on church steps on Sunday mornings”.


Shedding them
IMAGINE the scene. It’s the monthly inter-church men’s breakfast. We gather in a local hotel for a very good breakfast and then, over coffee, listen to a speaker. This morning’s is a local vicar who had achieved the impressive feat of losing about three stone in weight between Christmas and Easter, and was now telling us how it was done.

Having just consumed a fairly high-calorie breakfast, and, to a man, having driven to the hotel, we listened guiltily to his tale of healthier diet and miles and miles of vigorous walking. Eventually, he decided that it was time to prove how dramatic the change was, like Bunyan’s Pilgrim losing the burden on his back, as he put it. He took off his sweater and replaced it with the one he had worn before Christmas. It came down to his knees.

Now came the coup de théâtre, his new waistline. Deftly he removed his trousers, and for a few seconds stood there, clerical collar above, a neat pair of underpants below.

At that precise moment, the door opened, and the waitress burst in to collect the crockery. One glance was enough. She dived back through the door at the speed of light — indeed, so quickly that some of the men didn’t notice she had entered. Heaven knows what she reported back to the kitchen. “There’s all those church men sitting there watching a vicar take his clothes off.”

Well, we’ve all read the papers, haven’t we? But at breakfast!


Canon David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of Oxford, and a former Head of Religious Broadcasting at the BBC.

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