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A Skilfully Woven Knot: Anglican identity and spirituality by Michael Mayne

05 June 2020

Philip Welsh reviews a Mayne miscellany

LIKE Austin Farrer a generation before, Michael Mayne has been blessed with an American disciple to edit a posthumous series of sermons and papers, and to extend a characteristically Anglican legacy.

A Skilfully Woven Knot brings together a modest number of addresses, sermons, and reviews that loosely reflect the character and spirituality of Anglicanism, or at least of the cultivated, generous, liberal Anglicanism of which Mayne was so eloquent a representative.

Its title address is an attractive basic introduction to the historic roots of Anglican identity, approached through a number of its defining figures rather than by reference to establishment or the parish system. Jeffrey John, in an appreciative foreword, shrewdly notes that Mayne might have been pressed harder on the limits of the ideal of comprehensiveness in the present climate. This tension seems unconsciously reflected in the way in which the “skilfully woven knot of the Elizabethan Settlement” which gives the book its title is represented on the cover by a rather loose net.

Other addresses look at the value of the arts in deepening our perception of God, the grave of the Unknown Warrior, and the thinking of hospice founder Cicely Saunders. Three sermons look at the nature of Christian truth, the life of Bishop Mervyn Stockwood, and the importance of the Church’s daily round of prayer. An article is included in which Mayne gives a vivid personal account of his experience of ME and of writing about it, and what it taught him about himself and about God. There are two one-page book reviews from 25 and 30 years ago.

This volume has a slighter and more miscellaneous feeling than its predecessors, and yet each item in itself is of a high quality, and reflects the intelligent, humane Anglicanism of the author, grounded in a gracious theology that is centred on the image of God in each person and the incarnation of God in the human life of Jesus.

Mayniacs will find much to enjoy on familiar ground, though these days it may feel like endangered territory. Others will find in A Skilfully Woven Knot an enviably readable assortment of occasional pieces which highlights, through the varying opportunities of one priest’s notable ministry, a deeply attractive Anglican spirit.

Readers of a nervous disposition can be reassured that the author’s startling claim that “underneath all we are and know is (for want of better words) a Diving Ground” is an editorial mutation of Tillich’s coinage the Divine Ground, and a possible case for a new discipline of predictive textual criticism.


The Revd Philip Welsh is a retired priest in the diocese of London.

A Skilfully Woven Knot: Anglican identity and spirituality 
Michael Mayne 
Canterbury Press £10.99
Church Times Bookshop £9.90

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