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Diary: Serenhedd James

11 October 2019


Rye humour

PETERTIDE found me at Rye, on a stag weekend for one of my oldest friends. I knew the place as Tilling, of course: the setting for E. F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia; it exceeded perfectly every expectation. We took lodgings at the Mermaid: all linenfold panelling and four-poster beds. Its origins go back to the 12th century, but it might not have looked out of place in Chuffnell Regis; over it, P. G. Wodehouse’s Americans would undoubtedly have cooed.

In the searing heat, I took a gentle afternoon stroll through the streets, keeping to the shade. Rye sits much like the Celestial City: at unity in itself, and crowned at its apex by St Mary’s. The building is delightfully hotchpotch, but what is it about piped music? When I arrived, Adeste Fideles was in full flow, which, combined with the heat, made for something of an Antipodean atmosphere.

A large plaque above the clock-face on the tower, flanked by gilded putti, quotes the wisdom of Solomon at the town: “Our time is a very shadow that passeth away.” The pendulum of the clock reaches down into the crossing, and is the first thing that one sees through the north door. There it oscillates, beat by steady beat, hammering the message home.


Club to club

AT LUNCHTIME on a sunny day in early August, I arrived at the members’ table of my club at the same time as the Principal of St Stephen’s House, Canon Robin Ward. Three courses and a bottle of wine later, we were on a train to Rochester to play “adventure golf” in the cathedral (News, 2 August). (I am indebted to the Revd Richard Coles for pointing out that it is no longer permissible to call it “crazy golf”, which I can only assume is in case it upsets crazy people.)

As soon as we arrived, the outgoing Canon for Mission and Growth, the Revd Rachel Phillips, bounded up with a warm welcome. Visitor numbers had increased dramatically, she said, and so had attendance at services. The nave of the cathedral — of which the Principal is a Canon Emeritus — was packed. We had to queue for our turn; I was handed a putter and a ball, and we duly teed off.

Canon Ward favoured a high-risk, whacko strategy: this earned him an early hole-in-one, to the delight and cheers of a group of small children, but later sent him into the far recesses of the north aisle. I crawled around slowly before receiving some coaching from the World Crazy Golf Champion, Marc Chapman, who was there being filmed by the BBC. All in vain, I fear.


Royal visit

A WARM afternoon provided the perfect excuse for a spot of church-crawling in Hertfordshire, with a chum who likes that sort of thing. We spent a pleasant few hours pottering about the countryside, with a pub lunch of fried food and pints of bitter shandy to slake the thirst. At the end of the day, we both agreed that, while there had been much loveliness, All Saints’, in the village of St Paul’s Walden, outshone the rest.

Its 13th-century chancel was remodelled in the 18th, given a barrel-vault with stucco embellishments, and separated from the rest of the church by a soaring and playful baroque screen. The last may or may not have been done by Hawksmoor; it would certainly not have been out of place in one of Wren’s churches in the City of London. Contrasting dramatically with the medieval feel of the rest of the building, it looked like some elegant piece of carefully crafted green-and-white jasperware.

The estate at St Paul’s Walden belongs to the Strathmore and Kinghornes, and was the late Queen Mother’s childhood home — she was baptised at All Saints’ in September 1900. In the churchyard we inspected her memorial, with a curriculum vitae carved around its base: “Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon — HRH the Duchess of York — HM the Queen — HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother”. Nice work, I suppose, if you can get it.


Holy Fathers

I WAS pleased recently to receive a copy of The Long and the Short and the Tall: a collection of obituaries from the Community of the Resurrection, edited by Fr Robert Mercer CR (Mirfield Publications, £5 plus postage from mirfield.org.uk/shop). This is not the account of the lives of the most famous of the Mirfield Fathers, but instead showcases some of the less prominent brethren.

Fr Gerard Beaumont was full of song, and lies buried in Cape Town with his pipe and tobacco; Sydenham Hoare had previously lived fully in the world, and always appeared at the College v. Community cricket match in his Bullingdon Club blazer; Fr Rupert Mounsey had been Bishop of Labuan & Sarawak in Borneo; among many other accomplishments, Fr Leo Rakale was the first black man to be professed at Mirfield, in 1946, beating Fr Arthur Phalo SSJE by a decade and a half.

The variety of these men’s backgrounds, and the places where they served — South Africa, Bermuda, Barbados, Southern Rhodesia, Wales — is a poignant reminder of the CR’s appeal and reach in its heyday; and, not least, of its work in the fight against apartheid. As Mgr Mercer notes, “in all this they are a microcosm of the Church.” Laus Deo.

Dr Serenhedd James is Hon. Research Fellow of St Stephen’s House, Oxford.

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