NEWMAN’s cause is doing so well in Rome that the General Synod may have to catch up by commemorating another saintly Oxford man — who remained in the Church of England.
Since our letters on the subject (21 December and 4 January),
Austin Farrer’s last confirmation candidate at Keble, in 1968, has contacted us. He is Antony Acton, of Corston, near Bath.
Noticing that he came to the college chapel but didn’t receive communion, Farrer “offered me his services as a priest”, he writes, using the theologian’s own phrase.
“There followed a series of hour-long solo confirmation classes, culminating in an exciting drive one autumn evening all the way out to Bloxham School for the service — exciting because his driving technique in the dark was to steer straight at the lights of each oncoming vehicle before making a very late correction.
“Not only did Dr Farrer drive me himself to my confirmation service, he also that summer found time to write to me several times, to send me books, to arrange for my confession to be heard by Donald Allchin, and even to buy tickets for me to escort his niece to a Gilbert and Sullivan show.
“He once told me that he was ‘totally unfitted for the work of a parish priest’: words belied by the unstinted pastoral care he showed to a shy, gauche 20-year-old law student at a time when he was (we now know) exhausted and already gravely ill.”
Farrer was not only a celebrated preacher, but clearly also a painstaking physician of souls — provided they survived the ride.
Out of the frying pan
SHROVE TUESDAY fell as flat as a pancake this year. Owing, I suspect, to current ideas about body shape, the fashion for crêperies and Dutch pancake houses in London has waned. Nevertheless, I had an observance planned, which then fell through.
A few years back, Shrove Tuesdays meant Pancake-a-Beetle in the church hall. Pancakes were served between the two halves of the score card, and most of those present would be at the next day’s ferial sung mass (special feature: the Ten Commandments to Bairstow’s unison setting in E flat: do try it).
Leaner times now; but other parishes may be keeping up their standards and their waistlines.
In Finedon, Northamptonshire, graced with the ministry of the Revd Richard Coles, for example, Lent was preceded by a Scarecrow Drive and a Clergy Pancake Race; but, unless I do his people an injustice, the scarecrows (a rural variant on beetles) and the pancakes were not conjoined. No doubt steps could be taken to rectify this.
It is also a sadness when pancakes, like so much else in the ecclesiastical calendar these days, must be transferred to the weekend. I have known people who would leave a parish in umbrage over less; and then where are your trained agents of mission, I wonder.
Put back together
IF YOU have a broken or a dilapidated statue in church, you might do worse than write to the Revd Geoffrey F. Squire SSC*. He has issued the invitation himself.
Fr Squire, well known for his work with Youthlink, speaks into (that’s the contemporary church jargon, I’m sure) the recent wave of anti-Christian iconoclasm by recalling that, about 40 years ago, he found a suicidal teenager smashing the statue of the Virgin and Child in St Peter’s, Barnstaple.
Care of the distressed boy (now a pillar of a church in Somerset) was his priority; and then the broken statue had to be repaired. Fr Squire glued it back together, piece by piece, and filled in or built up all the remaining bits with wood filler and sanded it down.
His sister, a skilled artist, then repainted the statue, he says. “When complete, it looked as good as new and much better than before, but when it was replaced on its plinth it was screwed on to it from underneath to make future damage much more difficult.”
I have mentioned before a Sacred Heart that was lacking one of its arms; so I imagine that damage to statues is not uncommon, even if it is by accident rather than intention. Fr Squire could be overburdened.
*Little Cross, Northleigh Hill, Goodleigh, Barnstaple, Devon EX32 7NR
Love (nun’s) island
DEWI SANT — St David — we know about him, of course. But did you know that there was a Welsh version of St Valentine?
I didn’t (having Welsh ancestry rather than nativity), until my attention was drawn to her by Anne Greig, a Church Times reader in Exeter diocese, who says that 25 January is the day of Santes Dwynwen, St Dwynwen — who is now not only the patron saint of lovers, but also of animals.
“She was the daughter of a king, she fell in love. and her father forbade her to marry the man of her choice. She ran away, met an angel (so the legend goes), and ended up as a nun on an island off Ynys Mon (the island of Anglesey), praying that lovers would find true happiness.”
People still go to Ynys Llanddwyn to pray for happiness in love. “And being able to celebrate Valentine’s Day nearly three weeks before the English makes life a lot cheaper and a lot less commercialised.”
DID I detect a sly look from the man behind the shop counter in Charing Cross Road when I handed over my money and he wrapped the book in an opaque carrier bag?
The temptation of the 1919 report The Ministry of Women was too much to resist in its centenary year, and, as I slipped it into the pocket of my mac, I thought of the sunshine that it could bring into other lives, too — the Facebook Clergy Dress Group, for example.
The priorities of 1919 were not those of today, except perhaps in one respect: a feature of this report, unlike so many that followed on the same theme, was the many illustrations of women in their clobber.
These are captioned with some restraint where they appear, but the List of Illustrations is delicious: “She is vested in a short surplice with full sleeves — about that time the surplice was being cut short on the Continent, though contrary to rules — and the black fur almuce hangs over her left arm. . .
“She wears a girded albe with sleeves gathered and tied at the wrist, like those of an English bishop’s rochet. . .”
For those who can tear themselves away from the pictures, there is the interesting challenge of determining from the highly erudite text whether Miss Alice Gardner, a Cambridge historian and apparently the only woman on the committee, who contributes whole sections about St Paul and the Early Church all on her own, is a heroine of ecclesiastical feminism in the making, or a very safe pair of hands.