THE WAY WE LIVE NOW

OUR TOWN

IN THE FAR OFF TIMES when Directions was still a tabloid and before it had become a Tablet, faithful readers may remember that I used to contribute a satirical column called `Great Anglicans of our Time'. People even wrote to me appreciatively about it. Characters like Dr. Miriam Fuller, the Church House bureaucrat responsible for the eirenic Archbishop's Report on Communion and Polygamy in the Episcopate (GS 7654321), had become, they said, a part of their own personal mythology. Only the other day a lady from the West Country dropped me a postcard asking that the column be revived. Surely she wrote, there is no decrease in the number of targets for satire in today's Church. She was ashamed of me for not having a field day.

But I am afraid that I must disappoint her. For the sober facts are that, where the Anglican Church is concerned, history has out-paced satire. There is nothing I could imagine that would be half so extra-ordinary as the actual events. Who could invent Richard Holloway - or for that matter, the prose style of John Gladwin? Mere reportage now carries off all the laurels. Take for example the diocese of Long Island in the Episcopal Church of the United States.

Once an Anglo-Catholic backwater, content to play second fiddle to the diocese of New York with its megalomaniac cathedral and socialite Manhattan parishes, Long Island has recently made a name for itself in the pages of Penthouse magazine. One William Lloyd Andries, rector of St. Gabriel's Church, Brooklyn, appeared there in the flesh and little else.

Ably assisted by a group of other clergy known amongst themselves, says Penthouse, as `the girls', Andries operated for some time a group-sex circle with boys specially imported for the purpose from South America. Two of the young men, Wasticlinio Barros and Jairo Periera, decided that they could make more from the exposure of the racket than they could by participation in it, and approached the magazine. The rest makes bizarre reading. In this story there is, as they say, something to cater for every taste, from cross-dressing to sexual scatology, with blasphemous parodies of the Christian rites of baptism and matrimony thrown in.

But more fascinating than the antics of the priests is the reaction of the Bishop. Orris Walker apparently had more than an inkling of the goings on. Not long before the story broke he had been dining with Andries and Pereira, his `husband', at the River Cafe, a chic restaurant beside the Brooklyn Bridge. A liberal with a drink problem, Walker heard rumours but did nothing. There was, he told reporters later, little he could do. The events had taken place in private, no law had been broken, and the Episcopal Church (after the Righter trial) was committed to a tolerant view of consensual same sex relationships among the clergy.

Nature imitates art, said Oscar Wilde (who had reason to know); and life, he might have added, imitates satire. It will surprise no-one that this was the same Walker who told a national church meeting, when an attempt was made to reaffirm heterosexual monogamy as the Episcopal Church's ethical standard, that the idea was not marketable in Brooklyn. Nor is the Andries affair the only clerical scandal to reach the bishop's desk. By a trick of fate at once ironical and inevitable, when he returns from drying out from his own addiction Walker will also have to deal with the misdemeanours of another Brooklyn priest, arrested in the course of drug investigations, found taking crack cocaine as he wrote his Sunday sermon.

By a further irony (which in satire would seem an extravagant fiction) one of the priests involved in the Andries affair was Howard Williams, the national co-ordinator of children's ministry for the Episcopal Church. So events in Long Island came home to roost in 815 Second Avenue, the Church's beleaguered headquarters, still reeling from the two million dollar embezzlement programme of its national Treasurer.

The Penthouse article absolved Williams of direct involvement in Andries's `sexual activities'. Nonetheless church officials forced his resignation, contending that it had irreparably damaged his effectiveness in the job - and mindful no doubt that recent accusations of paedophilia against priests have resulted in very large out of court settlements.

`Well, folks', as a character might say in one of Thornton Wilder's extravaganzas of Americana, 'that's about it. Just another Episcopal day in Brooklyn, Long Island. Nothin' much happened. Couple of drug pushers got busted. Couple of orgies in darkened churches. But way up there those far away old stars still doin' their old cosmic crisscross, and suppose there ain't a thing we can do about it. It's pretty quiet now. Folk hereabouts get to bed early, those who are not up late embezzlin'. 815 down there, that's Mr. Browning's house. Mr. Browning knows most everything that goes on around here, 'n most everybody who lives in these parts sees right through Mr. Browning...

It's the end of the play, friends. You can go home and push dope now, those of you who push dope. Down in `Our Town' there's a meeting of Cross-dressers Anonymous bein' rallied by a woman bishop, and a bevy of cathedral canons is putting up for the Monroe lookalike prize. There's always somethin' happenin'. Why - over at the school house an old-fashioned type gospel preacher just shot himself. You go and get yourselves a good rest, too. Good-night'.

Geoffrey Kirk is Vicar of St. Stephen's Lewisham in the diocese of Southwark

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