PETERTIDE is nearly upon us: the invitations are flooding in; and I have yet to master the art of bilocation. The sudden death of the Rt Revd David Thomas (Obituary, 19 May) reminded me that he presided at the first ordination that I ever attended. He was also the first bishop for whom I learned to pray.
His funeral was held on a wild and wet Whit Monday at St Mary’s, Abergavenny. During the reception afterwards, a photo was taken of Mgr Edwin Barnes, the Revd Dr Jeremy Sheehy, and the Revd Dr Robin Ward — Bishop David’s successors as Principal of St Stephen’s House. Regrettably, his successor as Provincial Assistant Bishop could not be photographed.
Meanwhile, Dr Geoffrey Rowell’s demise (News, 16 June), early on Trinity Sunday, has left another gap. As far as I can tell, he had the sad distinction of being the last serving diocesan bishop in the Church of England to be a Doctor of Divinity non honoris causa. MBA trumps DD these days; and the agenda-driven obituary that I read in the Telegraph was as graceless as it was ill-informed
The news of his death arrived at college just in time for him to be remembered at the solemn mass that morning: the student on intercessions duty was summoned to the sacristy door just before the bell was rung. It did not go unremarked that, while we had all been fretting over how to think of the Holy and Undivided Trinity without unwittingly lapsing into heresy, Bishop Geoffrey had quietly entered into the mystery’s full and perfect truth.
I REALLY should have learned by now that dinner with our no. 2 in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s legation to the Holy See, the Revd Marcus Walker, is invariably followed by a slow start the next morning. I decided to pull myself together with a cup of coffee and a bite to eat at a trendy church café, where I could sit outside and enjoy the sunshine. I placed my order, took my coffee into the courtyard, and waited for breakfast to arrive.
There are jihadis as yet unborn who have a better idea of how to make a bacon sandwich than whoever prepared what was set before me. Two slices of bread appeared on one side of the plate, and three small rashers of warm bacon on the other, with a knob of solid butter in between. The waiter handed me a knife with a wry smile. I had to go back inside to find the ketchup.
The place was packed. If any of the other customers was nurturing a simmering sense of resentment towards the church and its Vicar — who was sitting in the corner — it didn’t show. Then the penny dropped. The prices were eye-watering; but it’s a city-centre church with a sitting-duck tourist trade. And so, on balance, if the PCC can make a small fortune out of once-in-a-lifetime visitors with money to burn, then all strength to their arm.
My indignation allayed, I returned to the bacon sandwich, which had gone cold.
I FOUND myself with business in Westminster on the day after the General Election, when lionesses were whelping in the streets. Opposite the Abbey, an elderly gentleman was dancing as best he could — which was not terribly well — in the style of Michael Flatley, to the tune of “Cotton Eye Joe”.
His outfit — and the fact that he was attempting to dance at all — certainly did not shout “DUP”. He sported a green beret with matching waistcoat, a bright-orange scarf, a white shirt, and a very short (too short) dark-orange skirt. His ice-white trainers and socks were only slightly paler than legs. On his waist was pinned a small Israeli flag; and his placard — of course he had a placard — read “Christ Will Soon Come and Set Up His Own World Government, Says the Bible.”
In other parliamentary news, the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, was spotted at Buckingham Palace recently wearing frock coat, apron, and gaiters, which turned out to have belonged originally to the late Archbishop of York Stuart Blanch. But his Lordship had forgone a hat with rosette and strings in favour of a simple topper. A sign of the times, I suppose.
More tea, Vicar?
I RECENTLY caught sight of the official order-of-service template for inductions in a certain diocese in the Southern Province. At first I thought I was being set up. It includes the following ritual.
A young person hands the Minister a teapot, and says: “Will you be among us as one who offers hospitality, acceptance and welcome to all God’s children?”
Minister: By the help of God, I will.
The Minister asks the people: “Will you join me in seeking to make Christ known by loving his people of all ages, and feeding his flock so that the world might catch a glimpse of the love of God through us?”
All: By the help of God, we will.
The teapot is placed in a suitable location.
If Church Times readers can advise on a suitable location in which the teapot should be placed, they will write in, won’t they?
Dr Serenhedd James is director of the Cowley Project, and Honorary Research Fellow of St Stephen’s House, Oxford.