AS THE UK basked in the highest ever recorded temperature last week, clergy continued to serve their parishes in the heat.
The record temperature — 38.7°C — was taken at Cambridge University Botanic Garden last week, and was confirmed by the Met Office on Monday.
Dr Mark McCarthy, from the Met Office National Climate Information Centre, said: “Historically, UK summer heatwaves would typically tend to peak in the low 30s Celsius, with extreme events reaching the mid-30s. Climate change has increased the likelihood and severity of heatwave episodes across Europe, which will have also increased the risks of a 40°C temperature event in the UK.”
The Vicar of Aintree, the Revd Sam Korn, posted a message on Twitter last Wednesday: “Today is a bad day to be an Anglo-Catholic.”
Speaking this week, Fr Korn explained: “It was quite painful at times, it was sweatier than I like to be. Some clergy wear less clothing under their cassock, but I feel irreverent doing that; so I wear full smart dress underneath.”
Others decided to dispense with trousers on the hottest days. The Priest-in-Charge of St John the Baptist and All Saints, Lakenham, the Revd Paul Rider, said: “I quite often wear short pants under my cassock, which appalled one of my colleagues. . . When I’m wearing short pants, it still looks pretty good from the outside. I also wear short-sleeve clergy shirts, and I wear my wide-brimmed panama hat wherever I go.”
The Met Office’s State of the UK Climate report, published on Wednesday, showed that, since 1884, all of the UK’s ten warmest years have occurred since 2002; whereas none of the ten coldest years have occurred since 1963.
Mike Kendon, a climate information scientist and co-author of the report, told The Guardian: “Climate change is not some abstract thing in the future that we are predicting is going to happen. The point is that climate change is happening, and it is happening now.”
The Assistant Curate of St Margaret’s, King’s Lynn, the Revd Angela Rayner, explained that dealing with hot weather was part of the job. She said: “Lots of people asked last week whether I was hot, but it’s common in Rome and in Orthodox Greece for priests to wear cassocks. . .
“If one understands priesthood to be as much about duty as joy, one might come to understand that a uniform is part of the vocation. I partly wear the cassock to demonstrate collegiality with the wider Christian tradition, and see it as being about a priest’s death and burial to the world, and dedication to God’s Kingdom. Dealing with warmer weather is part of that calling.”
Fr Korn agreed with this: “There is an element of spirituality, it is not supposed to be an easy, comfy thing. I don’t want to make it easy for myself; there is an element of sacrifice in it. People sacrifice the eucharist in much worse conditions than 30-degree heat in Britain. For me, it’s important to dress seriously.”
The Assistant Curate of Liverpool Parish Church, the Revd Fergus Butler-Gallie, admitted that it was “pretty tough” and “disgusting” in the heat.
He said: “I did a funeral on the Tuesday, which was pretty warm. I did without my black cope, which I normally wear, as I didn’t think the family would mind, and wore a black stole instead. It was pretty disgusting in the heat.
“We are very lucky in our church that we have three vents at the altar; so you can get a blast of air to condition you if you stand in the right place. I have a much lighter-weight cassock, and sometimes I wear shorts or just my boxers underneath.”
He continued: “You just find ways of adapting; it had become a talking point with members of the congregation. You have to remember that in Italy or India it is the norm, and they find ways of coping.”
The Assistant Curate of St Peter and St Paul, and of St Michael and All Angels, Kettering, the Revd Alice Watson, agreed that it was a conversation starter.
“We had a big funeral on the hottest day, and that felt especially warm, but we have a lovely 800-year-old church building; so it was a bit cooler in there.
“I was worried about how I’d cope in the heat, as it’s my first year ordained, but, actually, once services get going, you focus on the task in hand and I didn’t notice the heat as much as I thought I might. My other church is a tin tabernacle, which was so hot all the candles melted.”
Going into the churchyard was a better option: “We celebrated mass outside on the Thursday morning, shaded by the trees in our lovely church gardens. It was actually a wonderful opportunity to celebrate God’s creation, and to witness — almost — on the street corner.”
Mr Butler-Gallie said that the “city of Liverpool isn’t a cooling place”.
He continued: “It is the changes of clothes that make it a nightmare: if you wear one item of clothing all day, you acclimatise. I deliberately eschew plastic collars, I wear cotton ones instead. . . They get quite grimy when it comes to wash them.”
Ms Watson recommended taking things a bit slower in the heat: “I found it important in services, especially funerals, to not look hot; so, no fanning with a service booklet. I tried to look as composed as possible so to blend into the service. I guess try to enjoy it as well — it will be raining before long.”
Fr Rayner said that clergy should “stay inside, rise early, work late, and take a nap in the middle of the day. It helps to have two cassocks so that one can be cleaned while the other is worn.”