IF MONDAY of last week was “Blue Monday”, it may not have been the best day to start reading a new novel about a buttoned-up churchwarden who is heading for a breakdown during a difficult interregnum.
”Difficult” is an understatement here. But it is my use of the word “interregnum” which may be queried, since we are now enjoined to refer to a parish that is between incumbents as being “in vacancy” — though it is a mystery to me why it is ecclesiologically worse to imply that the queen bee (male or female) has left the hive than to imply that there are no bees at all.
In Margery Roberts’s first novel, The Churchwarden, the difference becomes increasingly academic, however. The departure of the popular high-church incumbent from St Benet’s, in London, is followed all too soon by that of his fan club. Holding the fort are two churchwardens, of whom the eponymous one is an emotionally stunted bachelor whose chief comforts are the language of the BCP and contemplating the fine workmanship of the parish’s excellent vestment collection.
To crank up the pressure, the diocese has hived off the parsonage house, and the Archdeacon is a curt and devious Evangelical with an animus towards congregations of a Prayer Book Catholic tradition. The unhappy Christopher is confronted with the prospect, he thinks, of having to fall in with a mumsy woman priest near by, or even of being church-planted by the wildly successful Christ Church, with its “blokes” of whom all speak well.
Mrs Roberts, a well-known figure in London in connection with
both the Society of the Faith and a certain church on an island in the Strand, knows her C of E, and how personal agendas can stultify parish life when the bigger picture is forgotten. Although some of the characters here may be a little more extreme than they would be in reality, her story gradually gets a grip on you.
It has something of the progressive claustrophobia of Michael Arditti’s The Celibate (both tapping into the neurotic vein that most novelists, except, bless her, Barbara Pym, seem to find the most interesting aspect of Anglo-Catholicism).
I think the author misses a few tricks about the less winsome aspects of pastoral reorganisation and church-planting strategy — a world in which one or two of the Commandments can sometimes seem to have been sawn off the bottom of the board — but I suppose, as a colleague often reminds me, it’s a fine thing when anyone’s thinking strategically at all.
*i2i Publishing, £8.95 (CT Bookshop £8.05); 978-0-9554805-8-2
Lost and found
RECENT coverage of the centenary of the wartime National Mission of Repentance and Hope solved a mystery for the Revd Richard Thornburgh, whose benefice of The Saints, in Suffolk, includes St Mary’s, Flixton, near Bungay.
He discovered a banner “stored and forgotten” in the tower a couple of years ago, and, on the arrival of the First World War centenary, he displayed it on the north-aisle wall; but he had no idea about its origins until he read in these pages about the National Mission. In particular, the Revd Robert Beaken’s article (Faith, 4 November) suggested to him that Flixton must have been a recipient of the Archbishop’s Messengers and Lady Messengers.
It seems likely that the banner is a rare survival of a liturgical prop that, dated for one occasion, could easily have been treated as ephemeral and recycled.
At St Mary’s, now under massive and expensive roof restoration, it is going to be cherished. Donations welcome, the Rector adds, showing that the word “Hope” on the banner isn’t wasted on one person at least.
NO DOUBT the anniversary passed most people quietly by, but William Marsden died on 16 January exactly 150 years ago; and many have much of personal significance to thank him for, because I write of the surgeon, not the orientalist.
He founded both the Royal Free Hospital (1828) and what became the Brompton Cancer Hospital and is now the Royal Marsden (1851), whose expertise in the oncological field is of benefit to patients far beyond the capital.
The anniversary wasn’t forgotten at St Andrew’s, Holborn, in London last week, where Marsden has a monument, and where they celebrated a special sung requiem for him on Wednesday evening. It was because he found a dying young woman on the steps of St Andrew’s one night, and was unable to find a place for her to be treated, that he sought to set up a free hospital to which “poverty and sickness are the only passports.”
I am told that there were members of the congregation for that service who had been treated at the Royal Marsden, and were very much moved by the opportunity to do something for this great soul in return. There will be a “big” commemoration later in the year.
I BELATEDLY report a biblical misprint that one of our features (2 December) failed to pick up, let alone the proofreaders of the first edition of the Jerusalem Bible.
The Very Revd Geoffrey Marshall, of Oakwood, near Derby, tells us that his father gave him a copy of that edition of the Bible for Christmas in 1966. Psalm 122.6 reads: “Pay for peace in Jerusalem”.
Our correspondent comments: “Perhaps it wasn’t a misprint after all.”