I WAS warned long ago that it always takes the Church of England a few decades to catch up; so no surprise that it crossed my mind that the Goodies’ “funky gibbon” might lie somewhere behind all those contemporary yearnings for a “funky” vicar — even if my younger colleagues knit their brows and wonder what I’m talking about.
But it could be that the C of E is, in fact, ahead of the game. After our story about the children’s desiderata at Christ Church, Fulwood (News, 27 October), the Revd Captain Martin Joss CA tells us that he was interviewed for the post of Vicar of Oswaldtwistle, in the same diocese, Blackburn, last year.
The list from the children which came with his application pack make it clear that he needed to be, among other things: funny, kind, helpful, honest, caring, faithful, interesting, fair, able to speak to children, and . . . a dancer.
“This could have made me feel quite daunted if it were not for several other attributes that clearly meant I was meant to get the job: Christian, silly, unique, unconventional, and lovely!”
As one of Barbara Pym’s characters observes, where would the Church be if it hadn’t been for a “lovely man” here and there? But a dancing vicar? Someone already had an inside track on this autumn’s Strictly line-up, to be sure.
But the Revd Lyn Kenny, who is a fourth-year assistant curate now at Newport, near Brough, in the East Riding, and could rise to Fulwood’s expectations by hating both olives and celery, will be a contender in any parish, I think, unless it words its resolutions carefully. She high-fives children visiting from school when they are leaving church, but also on entering church — though only if they can provide the password, which is “Jesus” (not the most difficult one to hack).
She also has a personal testimony from a Year 6 pupil that her services are never boring, and that she always puts her message across in a “funny, crazy but dead good” manner. No Oxford commas in the Year 6 curriculum, I see.
IT’S Books for Christmas in this week’s issue; and one of the titles under review is the Revd Professor William Whyte’s fresh angle on Victorian churches.
They weren’t part of my life until, visiting London as a student, I made a beeline for several of the most famous, and sometimes found them locked. Now I find that one of the least famous takes up more of my life than I could ever have imagined.
Canon Brian Stevenson, of West Peckham, in Kent, must have been a spring chicken, too, when he went to work at the Post Office in 1961 — the year the Post Office Tower was begun — and was overawed by All Saints’, Margaret Street, then easily located by reference to Bourne & Hollingsworth’s department store.
He is still a fan of Victorian church architecture, and recently visited St James’s, Kingston, in Dorset, near Corfe Castle, “to view G. E. Street’s grandest church in England”, built for the third Earl of Eldon between 1873 and 1880.
“The interior is stunning and graced by flowers from a wedding on our visit. Street’s wonderful gift for wrought-iron work is apparent in the west door, pulpit, and high screen. There are no pews, but chairs with shallow cushions in the nave.
“I was trained at Cuddesdon — built by Street in the 1850s — and, as we drove away, I was reminded of All Saints’, Cuddesdon, with its central tower on a hill. St James’s, Kingston, also stands high on a hill with a central tower. Street was creating his own variation of an early influence, and does it with acclaim.”
Canon Stevenson’s Kingston experience has additional Victorian resonance for anyone who has seen Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World. “It was a grey morning, but there was a small queue of people waiting for the keyholder. He found it difficult to open the church as someone had stolen the door handle two days before.”
THE problem that faces our Books for Christmas operation, apart from grieving over titles that arrive too late, and over publishers who like reviews but don’t like buying the space that helps to pay for them, is adjusting to the cornucopia of possibilities that open up once a spirit of frivolity is unleashed.
Shall we point our readers, for example, to a horizon-broadening new series from Quercus? The titles, relative to the size of book, make large claims: How to Play the Piano, How to Land a Plane, How to Understand E=mc², How to Count to Infinity, and How to Draw Anything (each £9.99 (CT Bookshop £9)). At least two of these could be an asset to church children’s work.
Or should we facilitate clerical funkiness with “simple tricks for your four-legged friend” in PanMacmillan/Boxtree’s TV spin-offs Teach My Cat to Do That and Teach My Dog to Do That (£9.99 (£9) each)? “Did you know that the ancient Egyptians used to worship cats? . . . Cats are absolutely mind-blowing and smart[,] to boot.” Once Rex the Rectory Dog has learnt to fetch a beer from the fridge, perhaps he can pop into the sacristy to check on the Vino Sacro.
And there are the “outdoor activities to unleash your inner child” offered by David Scarfe’s The Wild Book (Orion/Trapeze, £16.99 (£15.30)). That, surely, is a short cut to the Kingdom of heaven; and it does have a section on “the spiritual power of trees”, though I think that if heaven means yodelling, it won’t be heaven for everyone. How dare the author preface his remarks on that subject with the quotation “‘My heart is like a singing bird’ — Christina Rossetti”!
My Book of the Year, as you’re asking, is Nemo’s Almanac: A quiz for book lovers (Profile Books, £9.99 (£9); 978-1-78125-950-4). It is the first book edition of this literary quiz, founded not long after the Church Times. Ian Patterson, who has edited it, includes a historical essay by Alan Hollinghurst. The merit of this as a gift to the preachers of your acquaintance is that (mostly beyond me, I confess) it says “You have such a well-stocked mind!”