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Press: Rochester Cathedral’s glorious summer of sport

09 August 2019

rochester cathedral/twitter

IT HAS been a glorious summer of sport, as we are told annually by all TV stations and sportswriters. Through much of it, for “glorious”, read “dull”.

Nevertheless, one sport, golf, managed to produce three genuinely good stories. Tiger Woods’s victory at the Masters in Augusta, in April, marked a champion’s recovery from apparent moral and physical collapse. Rory McIlroy’s embarrassing Open failure at his home course of Royal Portrush last month had a smack of tragedy about it.

Tragedy, we have all been taught, gets rerun in the form of farce, and, in the third case, the jokers were the authorities at Rochester Cathedral. The decision to set up a nine-hole crazy-golf course in the nave, with toy bridges as obstacles, won belly laughs and “Fairway to Heaven” headlines across most newspapers (News, 2 August).

Kaya Burgess in The Times retooled Psalm 23 as “a golfer’s prayer for avoiding the rough and water hazards”, under the heading “Let us Putt”. The Guardian brought out a list of the world’s best crazy-golf courses, including one alleged to exist underneath a funeral home in Chicago.

In Lexington, Kentucky, the paper reported, there is a biblical crazy-golf course, on which players meet challenges such as following the star to Bethlehem.

I am not sure whether these are the sort of connections that clergy in Rochester wished to inspire.

The idea appears to have been something to do with bridges, possibly because the charity that maintains the bridge across the Medway was paying for it. The Canon for Mission and Growth at the Cathedral, the Revd Rachel Phillips, told the Daily Mail: “We hope that, while playing adventure golf, visitors will reflect on the bridges that need to be built in their own lives and in our world today.”

It did not take long for the columnists to bare their teeth. Tim Stanley in The Daily Telegraph wrote: “When you stick a mini golf course in a cathedral, it doesn’t bring the community closer so much as it strips the building of its original intent and pushes God further away. It is an act of desecration.”

Libby Purves, in The Times, said: “This is a confused, embarrassed island, with a confused and embarrassed established Church . . . if ten centuries of prayer and meditation haven’t got there, a bit of novelty putting might.”

The Purves piece provoked an interesting online comment from someone calling themselves “Pale male and hale”: “I think that I’m right in saying that Ms Purves is a Roman Catholic, so I’m surprised to see her attacking Christians of a different denomination, which is usually considered to be bad manners.”

Perhaps the tendency of churches in England to band together in the face of increasing hostility has caused some upset. It continues to surprise me that newspapers are willing to publish anonymous comments online, when old-fashioned print letters pages are still tightly policed to ensure that editors know whose views they are publishing.

IN THE midst of the crazy-golf affair, the Archbishop of Canterbury was mocked for some past remarks about having fun in cathedrals. But where was the Archbishop? The answer was: appearing at the Focus festival run by Holy Trinity, Brompton, and being generally ignored by the national press.

The only response I saw was a celebrity tweet — well, it was HTB, after all. It came from the comic actor Sally Phillips, who wrote: “The fantastic @JustinWelby reminding the @churchofengland at #Focus that in its push for #diversity it must not forget #disability. #sohappy”

Ms Phillips, who has a son with Down’s syndrome, has drawn criticism for her stand on disability rights. The usual rule is that any actor who says anything in public which is not written down in a script is going to make a fool of themselves — but Ms Phillips’s modest and decent campaign is the exception that proves the rule.

ONE of the most familiar images of the past three years has been Theresa and Philip May, framed each Sunday morning by various bits of churchyard and porch. Most often, the frame has been her parish church, St Andrew’s, Sonning, in Berkshire — coincidentally, another church by a bridge.

Her Vicar, the Revd Jamie Taylor, wrote in the parish magazine: “I am not completely certain any other politician could have delivered a proper Brexit that the majority voted for in 2016 because of the makeup of the current Parliament. . . We are clearly witnessing huge changes across the political scene, perhaps irreversible ones. . .”

That is a lot less bland than the tributes that far more senior figures steeled themselves to give. This parish magazine is a professional effort that goes to every home in the area, and which has done so for the past 150 years.

St Andrew’s has achieved this, as far as I know, without ever running dodgem cars around the font.

Steve Doughty is Social Affairs Correspondent of the Daily Mail. Andrew Brown is away.

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