LAMBETH BRIEFING NOVEMBER 1998
THIS, I SUPPOSE, is farewell.
Farewell to Lambeth, which I shall certainly miss - it has been a real privilege to be at the heart of things in a dynamic period of constructive change. And farewell to the readers of New Directions. I hope you will not think me churlish if I say that, as a result of the hospitality of your columns, I know you far better and love you no less!
From the coal-face of episcopal engagement, with the challenging realities of an increasingly secularised nation, I am sure that I will look back with interest (and perhaps a rather indulgent amusement) on the world of high ecclesiastical politics. But you would be wrong to conclude that I am sad at the impending departure. On the contrary, like the Church of England itself, I am ready for a New Start (as our dynamic millennium slogan has it). I have done my bit and it is time for pastures new (as someone once remarked!).
Make no mistake, the People's Church is entering upon a whole new era, and I want you all to know how excited I am about the future which is opening up. Of course my own part in that future will now be a modest one, away from the throbbing centre, tending the vineyard in a local, grass-roots sort of way.
As I have always maintained, it's out there in the parishes of rural England that you find the real C of E. I am going to the ministry for which my whole career, thus far, has been a preparation.
Speaking of New Starts, every one of us at Lambeth, of course, owes a huge debt of gratitude to Michael. The People's Church starts here! As a result of my own modest contribution to the whole Turnbull exercise (I was convenor of one of the Focus Groups which fed in their feelings to the Millbank Focus Group Convenor, and so eventually to the Lambeth Group Advisory Group) I was able to sense what dynamism he has brought to a Church tragically tied up in its own red tape and bureaucratic structures.
Not only has Michael effected a whole sea-change in the way the Church of England is structured and administered,; but he has selflessly undertaken to be a member of his own Archbishops' Council - to help steer the boat he himself has launched. And that, of course, will be invaluable.
But what I admire most about Michael is the sheer sang-froid of the man. We need have no qualms about him! (Not, of course, that I am suggesting that anybody does have qualms; least of all the AbC!)
At the eye of the storm Michael is as cool as a cucumber. Faced with a situation which has forced not a few young curates to consider an alternative vocation at the check-out in Boots, Michael (as we all saw) played to the camera like a trouper. Even Bill Clinton could learn a thing or two from him!
It's nice to know, as I bow out from the corridors of power, that the C of E is being fronted by a media performer of such calibre.
On the domestic front, you will be pleased to know that Bobby and the Commissioners have declared a truce and settled for an unpretentious little property in which I suspect we will be able to muddle along. She is now spending whole afternoons at Peter Jones, which, despite our rather British Home Stores past, seems to be what elevation requires of us.
To a man of my simple tastes and proletarian origins, I have to say that the price of lampshades seems exorbitant. But so it is! A man who is likely to be having Lords Lieutenant popping in and out of his downstairs lavatory has to pay attention to these things.
Speaking of lavatories (which in my family we tend, on the whole, to avoid) some kind correspondent of New Directions has pointed out a really spooky fact. Which is this: that A.W.C. Armitage-Shanks is to be Bishop of Twyford in a diocese where the bishop's wife is called Lou. Now isn't that a strange coincidence? At least that is what some people might say. But we Christians know that God works in a mysterious way. In His Providence there are no accidents, only Signs - if only we can discern them.
By now, of course, you will all know about the bruhaha over my consecration. I am being 'done' with one of your 'flying bishop' chappies, and Wesley Carr (with a name like that one wonders if he is in the right church) has done the prima donna bit and withdrawn his tourist attraction.
The AbC was not best pleased, I can tell you. But the Carr man is cutting up rough on a number of fronts at the moment, so I thought oil on troubled waters was the order of the day. Colin, whose CV is almost as impeccable as my own, and who slipped into St Alban's a matter of months after my own departure, came up trumps as soon as I suggested it.
So George is going to make the Pace, in the little cathedral where the locomotives trundle by. And I, for one (who still treasure the train set I got for my ninth birthday) will rejoice. I expect the day is not far off when Colin can lay the bow ties aside and become a bishop himself.
In all this fond leave taking and happy anticipation, however there is, I fear, an intruding sadness.
In our Lambeth rose there is a worm. In the smooth lawn of episcopal collegiality there is a mole hill. The gutters of the House have been leaking.
Both the multiple marriage thing and the 'helicopter vision' of Michael and his cronies have oozed out of decent obscurity into The Sunday Telegraph .
This is Something Up With Which We Cannot Put!
I have to say that there is simply no point in having Spin-Dr Beaver if people are going to behave like this. The AbC relies on Bill. 'What spin can we put on this one?' he regularly asks at meetings of the Standing Committee, where the good doctor's attendance is de rigueur. And Bill tells him. Now there is a tragic eruption of Private Judgement into this essentially discreet operation.
But we think we know who it is. And he certainly won't be getting the deckle-edged high quality card with photo of George, Eileen and the kiddies this Christmas, I can tell you!
And now my last word in this my last Lambeth Briefing must go to Judith Rose; and it is of course, a word of encouragement. As an Archdeacon myself I know how uncomfortable it can be with your nose pressed up against a glass ceiling. So fight on Judy! We bishops are right behind you...though I have to admit, at some distance.
Andrew Armitage-Shanks is Archdeacon-at-Lambeth and is soon to be Bishop of Twyford, in the diocese of Winchester.
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