New Directions Interview

with Brian Hanson

ND Will you tell us a little about your upbringing and how you came into the Anglo-Catholic world?

I was brought up in a conservative evangelical parish and then, when I was in my teens, I found that that was not enough for me and I discovered there was such a thing as Prayer Book Catholicism. I found myself at my local parish church which was Norwood Green – which is now a SMF living – where the liturgy was high church but in accordance with the Prayer Book. We did not have Benediction but we did have Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, and things have just developed from there. But, even now, I think it important (if I can) to worship in my parish church; my present parish church has a Eucharist every Sunday, it’s not smells and bells but it is sufficient for me.

Favourite composer?
Elgar

ND You worked as a solicitor for some years – how did you move from that into ecclesiastical law?

I was majoring on criminal and divorce law which was not the most exciting thing to do, and my parish priest said to me, ‘You are a churchman, why not see if the Church Commissioners have an opening?’ In those far-off days you did not apply to advertisements, you just wrote in. The Secretary to the Commissioners interviewed me and said, ‘Well, one of my solicitors is taking early retirement because of ill health – you will do.’ He did not ask me anything about my religion or anything like that, so he was not the least bit interested in that side of things. I went into the Legal Department and started devilling on legislation. My Principal, then, became the first Legal Adviser to the General Synod and he asked me to go as his Assistant Legal Adviser, so that is how it happened. I have never answered an advertisement at all, I have always been invited to do things. When he retired Michael Ramsay said, ‘Hanson’s much too young, we cannot possibly have him as the next Legal Adviser.’ So they advertised, had a goodly number of replies but decided that they could not appoint any of them and so the Archbishop had to eat humble pie and ask whether I would do the job, and I said yes.

Favourite piece of classical music?
Nimrod Variations

ND Towards the end of your time there, you were involved in the great contentious issues of the day and you had views which you kept scrupulously to yourself, but did you find tensions in having to write the legislation with which you disagreed?

For relaxation?
I am in the middle of Wilde’s Dorian Gray

No, I have always had the capacity for keeping my thoughts to myself and just doing the job that I am paid to do. And one of the things I enjoy now in semiretirement is I can say no to the things I do not particularly want to do. I think I was a professional in that when the women legislation in 1992 received the final approval vote in all three houses, one of the Steering Committee, Deaconess McClatchy, came to me and said, ‘Oh, isn’t that wonderful! We got it through,’ and I said, ‘No, actually. I think it is terrible.’ And she said, ‘Well, Brian, I never knew how you felt.’ I thought that was quite an accolade. I thought a lot of that.

I have never had any trouble separating my private views from the job I was asked to do and I think that is just your training as a lawyer. You have to represent your client’s case as best you may, which I did.

Religious reading?
Duffy’s The Popes

ND Having retired now from the civil servant’s role, you have taken on a number of significant Anglo-Catholic positions and you have been a Guardian at Walsingham for several years now. How did that come about?

Popular music?
Abba

I honestly do not know. I first went to Walsingham when Hope Patten was still Administrator, so that dates me! I went on a weekend pilgrimage with the Society of Mary from St Magnus the Martyr and our coach left at 8 o’clock in the morning, and we thought we had done well to arrive by 1 o’clock because there weren’t such things as motorways that sped you along in those days. I then became a regular pilgrim and in 1984 I was asked to become a Guardian. By that time I was already Legal Adviser at the Synod and so I knew a lot of prominent Church of England people in the Synod and I think the College of Guardians decided they needed a lawyer who was knowledgeable about the Church, so the lot fell to me. And it has been one of the most rewarding charities that I have ever had anything to do with. I have really enjoyed my time as a Guardian. We had some difficulties after 1992 when there were Guardians fully entitled under the constitution to remain even though they were no longer in communion with the See of Canterbury: that was the only uncomfortable time.

Favourite author?
Dorothy L. Sayers

 

ND The developments at Walsingham placed it so that it was no longer an exotic backwater but very much at the forefront of things...

Vocal?
Allegri’s Miserere

Yes, that is right. Mervyn Stockwood was the first serving diocesan bishop of the CofE who really had anything much to do with the Shrine. When Robert Runcie came as Archbishop of Canterbury, he had actually been invited to preside at the National Mass when he was still Bishop of St Albans but he honoured the commitment when he went to Canterbury. So from then on Walsingham, instead of being that papalistic outpost, became a place which was recognized as being part of the Church of England. And, of course, Archbishop Rowan has continued that, and that has been a good thing. We are, as Guardians, still saying that the Shrine is there for everybody but it is a fact that as far as traditionalists are concerned, it is seen as a major part of their life and a stable thing that is always there, however much they are being persecuted back in the diocese.

Favourite book?
The Nine Tailors
which is great fun!

ND Do you think that open policy will survive into the future?

Yes. We have a policy at the moment that a woman priest is not permitted to celebrate at a Shrine altar but obviously she is welcome to come with her parishioners. A lot of those lay people do not understand the position of the Shrine and obviously if the legislation goes through for women in the episcopate that will cause additional difficulties, as and when there is a woman bishop ordaining men to the priesthood. Things are not easy and it is not easy for the Administrator to make sure that the Guardians’ policy is maintained; however, that is as we see it at the moment and, in my view, I do not think the policy ought to change much in the future.

Painting?
Pieter Bruegel’s Procession to Calvary

ND How do you see the wider landscape as the vote about women in the episcopate comes up?

As we know the House of Bishops’ meeting at the end of May made some amendments to the Measure and we don’t know how the General Synod will react to that. At Final Approval of the legislation we are talking about a two-thirds majority in all three Houses of the Synod and at the moment it looks doubtful whether they will achieve that two-thirds majority in the House of Laity. If the legislation does not go through, that will not be the end of it. And that worries me. We Anglicans have spent more of our time fighting one another in recent years than winning souls for Christ. My position is that it is probably inevitable that we have women bishops but there must be proper provision for cradle Anglicans like me who do not accept it. I have not changed my beliefs – it is all these other people who have changed their beliefs and say that they are the inclusive church and that we all have to accept women’s ministry in its entirety. I have no trouble at all about women deacons – I think there is scriptural warrant for women deacons but I see nothing in Scripture or tradition to warrant women in priests’ or bishops’ orders and, on that ground, I do not wish to be pushed out of the Church of England. I have no spiritual home at the moment in the Church of Rome or the Orthodox Church because I am a cradle Anglican and
I think that Anglicanism has it right about the role of bishops, priests and the laity. When it comes to the Church of Rome I think that they do not have the same view of the place of the laity as I do.

Unmissable television?
Rev
and Time Team

 

Last film?
The Iron Lady
. I’m not so squeamish as some people who say it shouldn’t have been made. I think it’s a very good portrayal of Thatcher and I enjoyed it.

 

Last live music heard?
Stainer’s Crucifixion

 

ND One of the major roles you took on after you left your job – actually slightly before you left – was the Presidency of the Society for the Maintenance of the Faith, which inevitably is a rather political position because it is the exercise of private patronage which has been under attack in recent years. How do you see the role of private patrons now?

When I accepted the role of President I think that patronage was well respected within the Church of England. It was not seen as anything political at all. It was seen as a counter-balance to the power of the diocesan bishop. I was Legal Adviser when the Patronage (Benefices) Measure went through the Synod in the eighties, and patronage in those days was taken so seriously that the Steering Committee for the legislation had to have a consultation with private patrons, another consultation with patronage societies and the Oxbridge colleges, and indeed the Archbishop of Canterbury even had to have a private meeting with the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor’s Office to make sure that they were on board. We had to present all that to Parliament before the Ecclesiastical Committee would consider giving an affirmative report to both Houses. Now, patronage has been whittled away with pastoral reorganization, with suspension of livings, and it is not the force to be reckoned with that it once was, more’s the pity I say.

Last play seen?
Congreve’s The Way of the World

 

Favourite food?
own home-reared lamb

ND Of the bishops you have known and had to work with, who would you regard as your kind of model bishop?

Of course, I would say Eric Kemp wouldn’t I?! Eric Kemp, a good canon lawyer, was someone who was appointed under the old system. I do wonder whether he would have been appointed today. Mervyn at Southwark was such fun, I really enjoyed working with him – well, we all know the stories about him! And Runcie was, of all Archbishops I worked for, the one I got on best with. He had a very good sense of humour, on my sort of wavelength at any rate. I did not agree with a lot of his policy, and it is true that if he had grasped nettles at the right time I do not think we would be in the position we are today, but it is easy to be wise after the event. He was a good man to work with.

 

Favourite drink?
almost any wine

 

What annoys you most?
Drivers who don’t signa

l

ND You have alluded to the fact that the position of the Church was much more significant in many ways in the past and we seem to be heading into an age when the Church has become increasingly marginal to mainstream political life. How have you seen the shift in church/state relations over the past few years?

When I first became Legal Adviser governments of all hues would quite often not even go public on an issue unless they had spoken to the relevant person, either a bishop who majored on that subject in the House of Lords or a department of Church House Westminster, be it Education or some social issue. The Church was seen as a partner, the established Church, but various administrations of different political colours have whittled that away. Perhaps the Church was in part to blame in that it felt it needed to be seen as being all things to all people, with the result that governments thought that the Church was irrelevant and with multi- culturalism and the issue of equality in all things, the Church just was left behind. We are certainly not consulted in the same way as we were in the 1980s when I was around.

Favourite historical character?
Dr Pusey because he stayed in the Church of England

 

Least favourite historical character?
Oliver Cromwell

 

ND It is now mooted in the reorganization of the House of Lords that the bishops will remain but will be much reduced in numbers. Do you think they have been an effective voice in the House of Lords, a necessary voice?

I think it was, and is, a good thing that the bishops are there. With twenty-one who are taking prayers on a regular basis, it is just about manageable to have, as we do have, a rota of bishops saying prayers for a week at a time and being available on those days in the Lords to give a Church of England view if necessary on the question before the House. How they are going to manage to keep that going with a reduced number I do not know. I think it can be shown that they have had, in the past, a significant influence on things but, if they are reduced in number, it probably means that their contribution will be reduced as well.

 

Favourite fictional character?
Rumpole

ND The Church of England seems to have developed much more involvement in the Anglican Communion, and you were I think were involved in the early stages of some of those discussions on the Covenant?

Yes, the Covenant, but also the Archbishop of Canterbury set up what was called the Panel of Reference of the Anglican Communion which was supposed to deal with problems in provinces mainly in the United States and Canada over clergy and parishioners being locked out of their buildings because they held a certain view that differed from that of the diocesan bishop, so I was a joint Secretary of that organization. But it did not last long because, certainly so far as America was concerned, they said ‘we ain’t got no Anglican pope’. I soon realized that the Panel was going nowhere and it has now vanished. If that did not get anywhere, then I am very doubtful about the Covenant. It has already been lost in sufficient English dioceses so that it cannot be brought back to the General Synod. So here is, once again, the Archbishop of Canterbury finding that his Synod is not backing him in his view. Although I support what the Covenant was standing for, unless it has teeth, it cannot deliver.

 

Least favourite fictional character?
Scrooge

 

Favourite actor?
David Haig

ND It has been announced that the new Bishop of Chichester is to be Bishop Martin Warner. How do you view that appointment, given that you had working relationships before?

I think he will be a focus for unity within the diocese and that is what is needed, and I am quite sure he will be assiduous in teaching and preaching the faith throughout the diocese. He is a man of great energy who will think nothing of jumping into his car and driving a hundred miles to a service, which I am afraid you have to do in Sussex because it is such a huge diocese. But also I think that he has one of the best intellects of any bishop in the Church of England today and that will be put at the service of the Church at a national level which I think is vital; the fact that he will be speaking from a Catholic viewpoint is absolutely essential in the House of Bishops as we have it today. ND

Favourite actress?
Felicity Kendal (like all men of a certain age!)

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