LAMBETH BRIEFING

PHEW! IT GOT THROUGH. Not that I had any fears, you understand. But after the Bridge debacle there were one or two faint hearts, I can tell you. I remained firm, even when the AbC had his doubts.

I told them straight: spend enough money on promotional videos, glossy booklets and discussion documents and spin it out for as long a time as possible, and you can get virtually anything through the Synod, even Turnbull. The most recalcitrant synodsperson will contract legislation fatigue in the end.

But seriously, the New Church of England starts here!

At last we will be able to get things done! What Tony has achieved for New Labour (and poor little Hague is trying to do for the Conservatives) George and Michael have done for the dear old C of E - and only just in time.

Frankly I don't go for all the gushing optimism about numbers they are putting about. Dashing around the country looking for 'hidden communicants' seems pretty barking to me. The plain fact is that we are shrinking. But that's the Good News! The New Order of Michael and George (as we are calling it in the office) will be leaner, sparser, fitter; a really modern Church.

This whole business, by-the-by, has put new life into an old joke: the General Synod, the wags are saying, has awarded the two Archbishops the Church bureaucracy's highest order: the GCMG (God-Calls-Me-God). And a good thing, too. At last it will be clear who is really running the show! Which brings one, of course, to the Bishop of Croydon.

Why on earth does Wilfred keep shooting himself in the foot? Surely he could have left poor Enoch Powell alone? It is a sad case when a bishop cannot see the similarity between flogging a dead horse, kicking a man when he's down and speaking ill of the dead.

Our problem at Lambeth is that we can't keep tabs on these mavericks. It really didn't help having the Church of England seem less compassionate than Tony Blair. We are in an out-and-out Compassion War with New Labour - can't the man see that? At least he could have checked the thing out with the Association of Black Clergy. But what are we to do?

On the whole the AbC is pretty lenient about these things, but even he was peeved. We faithfully administer the Body and Blood of Christ to a fellow for a lifetime, and then we are told we ought to feel obliged to refuse his corpse bed and breakfast in the Abbey. You don't have to be a genius to guess what the average punter will conclude about our priorities. So it was good to read that the old sinner was driven to his rest by the same driver who took Diana to Althorp. Beside an honour like that, Westminster Abbey, obviously, pales into insignificance.

Though +Wilfred has always been thought of as something of a liability, I have to say that Christina Baxter, ('Pope-of-the-Evos', as we call her in these parts), has generally been supposed to be on our side. So why the Preface to the Church of England Year Book?

She really should know, by this time, what the policy is. We can't possibly challenge the PM about appointments yet - it would look as though we were weak and twitchy about Liverpool (which, of course, we are).

Lambeth is clear that any renegotiation of the appointments system must be done from a position of strength. Which is to say, not now. We don't want to be let in for a whole load of gratuitous democracy - dioceses being allowed to elect their own bishops by proportional representation, devolution for the Convocation of York, and all that sort of thing. New Labour is not to be trusted an inch, in my view. Why Christina could not see that she was letting the side down in the Year Book preface is a mystery. To surrender confidentiality is effectively to surrender control. Even Bill Beaver saw that.

Of course, we at Lambeth concede the deficiencies of the present appointments system; but we know that change takes time. The key to everything is the Archbishops' Council. Once Tony sees that we too have Cabinet Government, and that we have the same control of the legislature that New Labour enjoys, we will find negotiation much easier. The last thing, I suspect, that he wants - and certainly the last thing we want - is an episcopal appointments system that mimics best practice in industry or education.

What politicians and career ecclesiastics have in common is that they know about systems management. And a system which might appoint people on merit, for their own personal qualities, and irrespective of their opinions is, as anyone can see, very dangerous.

I am sure, after all that seriousness (and we do take appointments very seriously in the People's Church), you will want to know about the World Bank junket. Lambeth has not seen its like! The Crown Prince of Jordan! The Aga Khan! A real live Hindu Swami! Supper at the Palace! And all paid for by somebody else!

As one who barely understands a bank statement, I was soon out of my depth; but I am sure it was all very useful and important. Despite the language problem the AbC certainly gave the Swami something to think about, as he outlined the influence of the 'Shepherd of Hermas' on second century macro- economics. It was a dazzling performance! Prince Philip wisely kept to the World Wildlife Fund, which no doubt got a fat cheque as well.

I am not in a position to say how the World Bank profited from the whole show - but in our campaign to steer Lambeth '98 off gays and on to Third World debt, it certainly upped the AbC's profile.

By way of footnote I have to add that the latest news from Scotland is discouraging. We at Lambeth always try to make Scottish Episcopalians feel good about things. It must be so debilitating being so small. I know that the AbC always makes a special effort to be treat Richard as though he were an equal. But, size apart, Dick really must not go around apologising about things.

The Scottish Episcopalian is claiming that he has now offered a formal apology for calling opponents of women's ordination 'miserable buggers and mean minded sods' - which is small beer by Lambeth standards, and merited no kind of retraction, in our view. The AbC called the whole lot of them heretics - which, though a trifle medieval, is OK by me - and we are standing by that. Every time we appoint a PEV we make a bishop out of a heretic - which is very Anglican, and quite as it should be.

But where will this extravagant fashion for apology end, I ask myself? The Prime Minster of Australia apologises to the Aborigines; Tony Blair apologises for the Irish Potato Famine; the Japanese apologise for attempting world domination; and Bill Clinton apologises for things one cannot even mention. Before long those Anglo-Catholic bigots will be asking the AbC to apologise for all the grief we used to give them over vestments, monstrances, tabernacles and the rest. That surely would be a final embarrassment - then poor Martin Wharton would have to add to his other miseries the task of seeing that the other Holloway stops pouring the leftovers back into the bottle.

Andrew Armitage-Shanks is Archdeacon -at-Lambeth. His opinions are idiosyncratically his own.

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