30 DAYS --- MARCH 1998

PROMOTING REVIVAL

"Outlook", the newspaper of the Diocese of Canterbury, was in upbeat mood on its February front page. "More people are coming back to our churches!" blazed the banner headlines.

Apparently attendance figures for 1995 had shown a halt to the decline in average Sunday attendances. 1996 had shown a further setback, but 1997 saw a diocesan increase of 200 over the 1995 figure. This startling rise of 0.6 of a person per church provoked Bishop Gavin Reid to say that "we have turned the corner of attendance decline", and that "media talk of non-stop decline is simply not true in this diocese" - although he does admit that "we have a long way to go before we can really say there is a settled trend of numerical growth."

One case of exceptionally strong growth was the parish of St Mary's, Bredin which, according to the bishop, had gone up by 10% in its attendances - during a year's interregnum!

"Perhaps God is telling us something," glows the Bishop. Perhaps He is. The former vicar, whose departure coincided with this revival, is Jonathan Gledhill - now Bishop of Southampton.

YOU COULDN'T MAKE IT UP

It's been a hectic few weeks for the retired Bishop of Southwark, Roy Williamson.

At his grand farewell Midnight Lord's Supper at Southwark Cathedral, as the service reached its climax, a door opened in the belfry and Father Christmas began abseiling earthwards, a bag of presents tied to his belt. Unfortunately, with forty feet still to go, Father's (Christmas) beard got caught in his harness and there he remained suspended until 20 minutes after the Bishop's procession had passed and the congregation had departed. It is unclear whether this meaningful symbolism was a special treat for Roy, the great innovator, or is to become a regular feature of the bold experimental liturgy of Southwark Cathedral.

Next excitement for Roy was to find that he had been officially listed, by his favourite salon, the House of Lords, as having died in 1997. This might have accounted for a somewhat lacklustre last few months in office, but this also turned out to be confusion.

Finally his picture appeared in the paper recently, and he was wearing strange headgear, of the sort worn by coalmen in the 1950s. He was purporting to have been awarded an honorary degree from somewhere calling itself the University of Kingston-upon-Thames.

While these events, will, no doubt, provide liberal commentators with startling metaphors of incarnation and resurrection, for the rest of us it is now getting just a little too far fetched.

We may believe in Father Christmas, we may assent to the existence of the House of Lords, we may overcome our doubts about the reality of a University at Kingston; but clearly Southwark diocese is an increasingly implausible myth put about to undermine the credibility of the C of E. Full marks to Mr Blair for not appointing anyone to perpetuate this fantasy.

ADDING INJURY TO INSULT

The Rt. Revd Richard Holloway has finally apologised for his shockingly vulgar remarks about orthodox Christians. No sooner had he laid that one to rest, than the endlessly controversial Primus of Scotland's dwindling and demoralised Episcopalians was at it again. This time at a St Andrew's Theological Society meeting, the guardian of apostolic teaching was reported as denying the divinity of Jesus. Apparently Christianity would be more acceptable to the Jews without this awkward assertion.

Of course it would be easier for Muslims too; but surely someone should explain to the great man that it would present one or two problems for Christians.

RELEVANCE RULES

Congratulations to the Oxford school which brought Epiphany bang up to date. Gone were Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. Instead the baby Jesus was privileged to be manifested to none other than Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton and Her Majesty the Queen.

At least we assume the baby was Jesus.

BETTER TO ROAM THAN ROME

Dean Lewis and Wells Cathedral made the news this month when a 17-year old choral scholar was turned away on the grounds that he was a Roman Catholic and wouldn't receive Communion.

An outraged 30 Days reader has contacted us to say that at his cathedral a senior, married adult chorister and the wife of a former warden continue to receive Holy Communion with the full knowledge of Dean and Chapter in spite of conducting a very public affair for over a year!

We have checked. Our correspondent is correct but, what he fails to understand is that they, at least, are Anglicans.

RAWHIDE

Students of a Jerusalem theological college were outraged when they came across photos of their rabbi principal taken at a nude bar and demanded his resignation.

The governors of the college defended him saying he had gone there for the purest of motives, "making the supreme sacrifice by going to this abomination to see if any of his students frequented it."

Unfortunately the governors could not explain why the rabbi was dressed in a full cowboy outfit.

STARGAZE ON THE INTERNET

Media sister and joint spirituality guru for Westcott House, Sr Lavinia Byrne, has added another dimension to her extra-mural talents. She has become a "cybernun", and web mistress of the "New Age Catholic" web site.

After we are greeted, on line, by a smoking hand-held cauldron, we can access anything from learned screeds on reincarnation to Lavinia's curriculum vitae, photographs of her friends and a shot of her as a little girl. Sadly there seems to be no listing of what's on at St James, Piccadilly.

Watch this space.

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