SOMETIMES, I think that the two great parties in the Church of England are the reactionaries, who believe that England has been going to the dogs since 1945, and the progressives, who think that it is only in 1979 that everything went wrong. There is a measure of realism in both parties, since neither awaits the future of England, or of the Church, with any enthusiasm at all.
This was the week for the reactionaries and their spokesman, Quentin Letts, who had a book to plug in The Times. The title — and it sounds even better in an arrangement for an orchestra of tiny violins — is Stop Bloody Bossing Me About: How we need to stop being told what to do (Constable). If an extremely well-paid sketch-writer, responsible only to his editor and to Rupert Murdoch, suffers under the tyranny of the Deep Woke State, it’s hard to imagine how hard life must be for the little people.
A cyclist wearing Lycra once swore at Mr Letts, who was cycling in his normal tweeds. Did Magna Carta really die for this? Worse was to come in his passage through the vale of tears. Mr Letts was once a member of his parish’s PCC. Then catastrophe struck: “We were told we could not continue as members unless we attended a morning-long course on ‘safeguarding’, ie child protection. We would need to attend a workshop run by the diocese safeguarding supremo. It was up to us: attend such a lecture or surrender our (elected) membership of the PCC. Obey or you’re out. God bless you, too.
“Breaking the habit of years, I did as pressed. About 15 of us duly gathered in a local church for one of these courses. The average age must have been above 70. Our friend Liz was in the front row. She was 100. Others included an Austrian countess, a retired senior surveyor and his wife, a retired businessman and his wife and a devoted equestrian.”
The outrage of these respectable Christians at being told by a mere policeman that some of them might be sinners is hard to imagine, but Mr Letts tries hard. He may even exaggerate a little in his passionate concern for the oppressed countesses and equestrians of England: I find it a little hard to believe that he was really told: “We should never leave any vulnerable person alone with another human being, and that included letting the terminally ill receive communion in bed from unaccompanied priests. Nor should priests be allowed, on their own, to hear confessions — one of the most serious duties of a priest — because something dreadful might happen.”
But that was not the ordeal that broke him. No, that was the Archbishop of Canterbury’s electric kettle, and — worse still — the plug sockets in his kitchen. How ordinary-seeming are the implements of Satan; how literally fiendish the cunning of his assault on Mr Letts’s immortal soul.
“London’s churches continued to hold services during the Blitz, cassocked vergers quietly lighting candles while outside the fire brigade battled blazes. Yet now, in 2020, church doors were chained and not even priests were allowed inside to say the daily offices. . . We had the spectacle, on Easter Day, of the archbishop conducting a service from his kitchen. Visible in shot: his electric kettle, his plug sockets. The Church establishment cooed. It told us the archbishop was showing that God could be found everywhere. This may have worked for those with strong faiths, but a Church is little use if it only preaches to the ardent. For those of us with wobblier faiths, Welby in his kitchen just looked like a cut-price Delia Smith.”
I’ve got some sympathy for this: if you have to celebrate alone in Lambeth Palace for the nation, there is a chapel available, or, better yet, the study where Cranmer wrote. But the bathetic note of disappointed snobbery is just too much. How could a man who goes to church with countesses and equestrians be expected to share a faith with someone who is happy in an altogether lower stratum of the middle classes?
BASHING the Archbishop is clearly the fashionable vice among reactionaries today. Here is Simon Heffer in The Daily Telegraph, reviewing a book with unforgettably faint praise: “Anyone interested in the internal politics of the Established Church in the 1930s and during the last war will find much to interest them in these diaries.
“But [they] also remind us of a time when the Church of England was the Tory party at prayer, and not the Left-wing gynocracy into which it has been transformed in recent times, before attaining full flaccidity under Archbishop Welby.”
The most convincing theory of the decline of the Church of England is that it was driven by the failure, or refusal, of middle-class women to transmit to their daughters the habit of church. But the spiteful snobbery of some of the men who were left, among both clergy and laity, has also been underrated as an actively repulsive force.