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20 May 2016


All rise, please
I HOPE you are standing up to read this. I say this because I am now Rural Dean of Cambridge South, and feel that a certain deference is due. “Do we call you ‘Dean’?” one parishioner asked last week. He was disappointed to learn that he should call me exactly what he has always called me (to my face, at least).

The Archdeacon commissioned me in his study (in deference, I like to think, to my passion for the 18th-century Church), and then kindly gave me dinner (a condemned cleric eats a hearty dinner, as you know).

Actually, the whole situation has been kind to me: when the post first looked like as if it would come my way, more than half the deanery was in vacancy, and the prospect of sorting all that out filled me with horror. Happily, the pace at which appointments happen in the Church of England — torpor is surely both the most frustrating thing, and yet also probably what has saved Ecclesia Anglicana from catastrophe more times than we know — means that, by the time of my commissioning, there are now very few parishes left to fill.

It was General Franco who observed that he had two piles of paper on his desk: one of problems that time would solve, and one of problems that time had solved, and that his work largely involved moving papers from one pile to another. I do not normally quote fascists, but I wonder whether a coffee-table book such as “The Management Sayings of the Great Dictators” could be a project for me when I finally make myself entirely unemployable in the C of E.

It might even find its way into all the training that we are sending bishops and would-be senior clerics on these days.


Sent to be processed
WE HAVE seen rather a lot of senior clergy in Cambridge recently. This is not something to do with the parish priests’ charismatic appeal, which has drawn, siren-like, the episcopal feet to East Anglia, but rather that they are all being sent here for various bits of training and retreading.

I walked out of church the other morning after matins only to find a trail of cathedral deans (perhaps that’s not the collective noun) making its way down Trumpington Street towards the Judge Business School. Here they were given management tips by whizzy Americans in open-necked shirts, who tell them that whatever they think modern management is about is wrong, and is so last-year, and that now no one manages anything but creates value by outsourcing control to a group of synergistic stakeholders in organic Tupperware boxes.

It is possible that I’ve made that sentence up, but you get my drift. If I think about the kind of training I would like, it mainly revolves around St Paul’s epistles. I never studied them at theological college, because we were too busy sitting on each other’s knees in circles exploring what “nakedness in the pastoral encounter” looks like. And, no, I’m afraid I’m not making that sentence up.


Unwitting substitute
IF I were offered more directly practical training, I think that I would like something on time-management and administration. That way, there would be fewer occasions when I could book myself into several places at once, or the wrong place entirely.

Of course, now we are really investing in training, it is possible that I could fix it by going on a course on bilocation; but until that nifty module comes up in the continuing education handbook, I suspect I would be better off learning how to manage my diary.

It reminds me of the story I was told of a former Administrator of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, the Revd Colin Stephenson. Being a good team player, he would often go and preach at evensong in parishes around the Norwich diocese. One afternoon, he drove off, but, getting slightly lost, he arrived at the church after the Office had begun. He politely sat at the back, and then, during the hymn after evensong, went up to the front, entered the pulpit, and preached his sermon. Afterwards, the vicar came up to him.

“Thank you so much for preaching tonight,” he said. “But I’ve got one question: who the hell are you?”

Fr Stephenson had put the wrong church in his diary, and no one had been more surprised to see him ascend the steps of that particular pulpit than the vicar sitting in his stall waiting to do the same thing.


Top-deck surprise
I AM grateful to those priests who wrote to me with their experiences of the effects of wearing a clerical collar after my last Diary column (1 April). I was reminded on Saturday, however, that the absence of a collar does not always guarantee anonymity.

The occasion was the May Devotion to Our Lady at St Silas’s, Kentish Town, in London. The simple Bible service began with a celebration of holy communion, and then a procession through the streets to the neighbouring parish of Holy Trinity. Servers, clergy, a statue of the Blessed Virgin, and a good number of the faithful sang joyfully as the procession wended its way along the roads of the Edmonton Episcopal Area.

Leaflets explaining what was going on were handed out to intrigued passers-by, and all smiled and waved as the procession made its Marian way.

The smiling and waving continued as a 48 bus drove by on the other side of the road, and, as lay and clerical eyes scanned the top deck to see who was watching, whom should they light on but the Bishop of Edmonton, the Rt Revd Robert Wickham, on his rest day, in mufti, heading into town?

The clergy were highly surprised to see their father-in-God, but not, one imagines, as surprised as their father-in-God was to see them. Sometimes, he must have pondered, there really is no escape.

The Revd Robert Mackley is Vicar of Little St Mary’s, Cambridge.

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Thu 20 Apr @ 16:08
The Archbishop of Canterbury has received the specially commissioned King James Bible that will be presented to Kin… https://t.co/u8LMnSFcfV


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