A MATRIMONIAL extravaganza, pace the Revd Dr Susan Batts-Neale (Features, 8 November), can be a great thing — especially when you have no pastoral or other concern except, after a generous invitation, to keep the officiating cleric company at the reception.
I did this once, slightly uneasy at not knowing anyone from Adam (or Eve), but have never forgotten the Routemaster bus, the Thames pleasure boat, the painted ceiling at Greenwich, the waiters with their champagne bottles, the cheeses (oh, the cheeses!), the chocolate fountain, and much more. It really was my special day.
But life isn’t all beer and skittles. Since this summer’s debate in our columns on the level of the C of E’s wedding fees, Canon Rob Kelsey has written in from Northumberland about what they do in his parishes.
Canon Kelsey considers the wedding fee good value and unlikely to change, but administers a Wedding Support Fund, which is financed from a proportion of the retiring collection at weddings, and occasional fund-raising by the Mothers’ Union.
In Canon Kelsey’s experience, people are ready to give more to help — as he says at the beginning of each wedding service — “other couples, who might not afford the fee, to choose to have a church wedding, and a happy day like this”.
There is increased giving, and the church receives the money allocated to the fund (recycled back to it at future nuptials) and the reputational benefit of being generous.
He takes couples at their word when they say that the fee is off-putting, and consults his churchwardens. A grant is then made to enable the fee to be paid in full.
“The fund might not work in a parish with high levels of deprivation, but it could operate across a deanery or archdeaconry,” he suggests. “A few people complain that some couples take advantage of the fund. But — to use an imperfect analogy, which shouldn’t be pushed too far — supermarkets don’t complain that some people ‘take advantage’ of their special offers.”
So it’s special days for all.
Never had it so good
ON THE subject of churchwardens: another (now former) one has now gone into print on his own initiative — after Matthew Clements (Books, 22 March; Features, 3 May) — and I wonder whether we might not soon be as good at talking about our crosses as the clergy are.
But Eric Sanderson’s Churchwardens: Reflections on 1600 years of management, ministry and maintence* has, in fact, the aim of reassuring churchwardens “that their life is easier than that of their predecessors”. Yeah, right.
But he explains: “By the early 17th century, parish meetings were so well organized that they acquired responsibility for all manner of local government activity and became ‘pocket parliaments’. The churchwarden was the business manager of the parish and responsible for setting and gathering local taxes.
“At the height of their powers, in 1834, the vestries spent around one fifth of the budget of the national government itself. The government was keen to get hold of this money and churchwardens became mired in the manoeuvring between the political parties of the time as the government fought to wrestle financial control from the vestries. . .
“It all came to a head with the passing of the Vestries Act in 1850 — legislation designed to regulate the local government of parishes. Thereafter the election of churchwardens became solely a matter of ecclesiastical concern and government interference ceased.”
This delightful and wide-ranging paperback is fluently written and often droll, and includes a chapter on notable churchwardens who were not always, as T. S. Eliot was, the bank-manager type.
William Abbott, the highwayman churchwarden, for example, vanished before he could be transported for life; and Joseph Merceron, at St Matthew’s, Bethnal Green, held office until his death, even after serving an 18-month prison sentence in 1818 for embezzling the colossal sum (then) of £1000. Those were the days.
*FastPrint Publishing, www.fastprint.net/bookshop £9.99; 978-178456-622-7
GOING through a file of old sheet music, I found the paperwork for several annual meetings that I attended as the quiescent youth presence in the far-off 1970s and ’80s.
Parish business was expedited by making certain things merely available for “perusal”; and one deanery-synod report was a gem: “The last meeting of this Synod was devoted to the Charismatic movement and the work of the Fountain Trust in particular. The meeting followed an Evening Mass . . . when the music was provided by a small youth orchestra — a lively beginning to the charismatic movement!”
This was a large claim to make for a deanery-synod occasion, even in synodical government’s days of wine and roses.
Right to silence
THIS Remembrance Sunday weekend was one of contrasts.
At St Katharine’s Royal Foundation in London, Keston Institute was marking its half-century with the lecture by the Rt Revd Lord Williams on religious freedom (News, 15 November) — a nuanced account, delivered without notes or script.
One nuance concerned the language of the “persecution” of Christians in the United States and Europe. The cost of conscientious objection to what was presumed lawful by the cultural majority should not be minimised, the former Archbishop said; but he did not want to assimilate that too quickly to “persecution”.
Back on my home turf on Sunday night, at the West Indian Services personnel’s Remembrance service, I listened to the visiting Pentecostalist preacher (“a participatory kind of guy”) tell us in plain terms that in this country, today, “happy-clappy, Jesus-loving Christians” were being persecuted, and that the law should protect them, as (in contrast) it did LGBTQ people and Muslims.
As I recognised the call-response technique described by the Revd Dr Carol Tomlin (Books, 7 June; Features, 25 October), I fell back on the default silent stony-ground demeanour that is our Church of England birthright. It is a close relation of the press reporter’s poker face, also kept at the ready for the unlikely emergency that Lord Williams had similarly made a spirited request to “hear you all say A-men”.
NEWMAN reckoned, after he went over to Rome, that religion was more fun, life less so (I paraphrase). He was obviously in the wrong parish.
A cradle Roman Catholic returns from the holy mysteries with treasure in her handbag: a flyer for the Jack Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge Society and ITMA and Vintage Radio Comedy Society. It is for the Hi! Societies! 38th Open Day at the Club for Acts and Actors in Covent Garden.
OK, it was last Friday; so we’ve missed it. But who knew that there was an organisation to keep all these memories green? (Contact The Secretary at 45 Buckingham Gardens, Little Stanmore, Edgware HA8 6NB, for more information on JHACCAS events.) Over the years, the many societies represented have included the Angela Thirkell Society, the Betjeman Society, the Billy Mayerl Society, and even the Friends of Nutwood.
There is no mention on the flyer of a society for former Tractarians, but the Ordinariate may, I suppose, be eagerly awaiting its turn.
THE book that one’s friends implore one to write — one simply never has the time. But a cameo in a friend’s book is a kind of literary immortality.
Mine is in David William Parry Mount Athos Inside Me: Essays on religion, Swedenborg and arts, edited by Daniele-Hadi Irandoost, and published by Manticore Press in Australia ($A19.95; 978-0-6484996-7-1).
This is a book informed by wide learning, deep thought, and a poetic outlook, and is a project that was begun in the wake of a conference on the subject of Mount Athos, many years ago. In part, it draws connections between that mysterious monastic centre of Orthodoxy and the English literary tradition.
My place is in the chapter “Theology on the Toilet”.