I OWE an apology to you, dear readers, and to every bishop that I have written about for the past 30 years. In all that time, I have believed, sincerely, that no organisation could be less organised or, indeed, less competent than the Church of England. And, all that time, I was entirely wrong, because I could not imagine our present Government.
“Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places, if you look at it right,” as the prophet Robert Hunter wrote for the Grateful Dead to sing.
TALKING of prophets, Google reports a breakthrough in prophetic technique from Ghana, where someone called Prophet Salifu Amoako predicted a sad end to a local shock jock during this coming year: “There is an ambush that four people have laid against a radio presenter. If he is going to enter his house, four men will shoot him 30 times and run off on a motorbike. The man is called Captain Smart, there are four people who hate him and they have employed some Muslim boys that by this year April, he will be bragging that nothing can touch him. But by the time he knows he has become a ghost,” the Prophet said.
Superficially, this looks like any other prophecy: one that will have to be reinterpreted when it does not happen. The novelty is that it is much better than that. The report, from a site called Ghpage, continues: “To nullify their evil plot, the man of God said, ‘I will cancel every death. Every death in the atmosphere, I cancel it, I cancel it, I cancel it.’”
So, either Captain Smart is killed, which proves that God really does talk to the prophet; or he is not, which proves that God really listens to the prophet’s prayers. Either way, the prophet wins, and people have a story to tell about him.
THE only comparable feat of intellectual dexterity comes from an interview conducted by Steve Bannon with Archbishop Viganò, a former Nuncio to Washington, in which the Archbishop explained that the term “conspiracy theory” is itself proof that the conspiracy is real.
“Labelling those who denounce the existence of a conspiracy as ‘conspiracy theorists’ confirms, if anything, that this conspiracy exists,” he said, “and that its authors are very upset at having been found out and reported to public opinion.”
Archbishop Viganò’s public relations are very tightly locked down, but even by those standards this was a remarkable interview. One question, for instance, was: “You have been very confident that God desires a Trump victory in order to defeat the forces of evil inherent in the globalists’ Great Reset. What would you say to convince the naysayers who are ambivalent to the idea that this is a momentous battle between the children of light and the children of darkness?”
That doesn’t sound like anything that a native English-speaker would possibly say. But, in any case, it shows how close the links now are between the Trumpist movement and those Roman Catholic traditions that supported original-gangster fascism when that was around. All that was missing was the overt anti-Semitism.
THE GUARDIAN carried some unusually thought-provoking coverage over Christmas. Simon Jenkins started it off with a piece that noted that online worshipping had been much more successful than many people had expected. “The question of what is normal could clearly be traumatic for the Church. Churches are in the same bind as other institutions in the local high street. Why drive and park when you can surf and click?”
Jenkins is an interesting commentator, because he cannot really believe that anyone gets anything approaching a spiritual lift from any aspect of the Church other than its architecture.
“Every community needs supportive institutions, but it is odd when they represent such a tiny minority, and one seen by most people as based in a cold, inconvenient building quite alien to their daily lives.”
But surely the whole point of going to church is that it should provide an experience alien to daily life? And it is also true that the only internet communities that are really satisfying and lasting are those that are also grounded in real-life meet-ups.
In any case, he provoked several letters in reply, of which the most gratifying probably came from the Revd Andy Lightbown, of Winslow, whose church seems to have lost one third of its income in the lockdown. “We could have coped if our costs had reduced proportionately, but they haven’t. . . The amount we are asked to pay to the diocese has increased or remained the same. . . Managing a small food bank, providing online worship and serving the community in a myriad of new ways all carry a significant cost.”
The letter concludes with a demand that the Church examine its cost base. It is another example of the way in which the Church Commissioners, who give a tiny fraction of their income to the dioceses every year, feel wonderful as a result — whereas the parishes that give a very much larger share are very much less enthusiastic.