THE TENSION WHICH has wracked a great nation has at last been released! Now we know!! The AbC is to pray in the Dome!!!
At precisely 11.15 (a time manfully and skilfully negotiated by Spin-Dr Beaver himself - not so early as to offend the archiepiscopal dignity; not so late as to put a damper on the midnight fizz) HMQ will enter the Millennium Experience, closely followed by George-and-Eileen, who will pray with us, thus securing a truly Christian focus to the event. He will be praying 'in the run-up to the Millennium'; and as everybody knows, every event which is worth the candle (and this one is apparently worth eighty million of them) has to be run up to by somebody. It is a triumph for Lambeth Palace!
Frankly I am both relieved and disappointed. Disappointed because Tony will not now be using the prayers I wrote for him; relieved because I was seriously worried that the whole farrago would end up with the AbC brittle, peeved and fractious. (Like the old trouper that he is, George knows that timing is of the essence.) But all has been amicably resolved and there has been the necessary interview on the Today Programme ('I'm no kill-joy, John' said the AbC festively) to demonstrate conclusively that it is so.
Mind you, the question is now: Will George-and-Eileen still be Archbishop when the clock strikes twelve? Attacks have been coming thick and fast recently and those of us who have the Millennium Experience (and the church's involvement in it) at heart have been assessing the possibilities. So that you don't get confused with the names in a story where almost everyone is called Carey, Andrew or Brown, or a combination of any two, I will give you a brief resume.
First there was Andrew Carey in The Church of England Newspaper calling on Dick Holloway to sling his hook; then there was Andrew Brown in The Daily Mail claiming that George was practically the worst Archbishop ever; then there was Craig Brown in The Daily Telegraph with a wicked little piece pretending to be an excerpt from George's private diary. (Personally I have always thought that kind of satire is in particularly bad taste, and told the Blackburn Commission as much when I gave evidence.) Then (presumably thinking that George had got Andrew to demand his resignation - strategically prior to the ACC meeting in merry Dundee - well , wouldn't you, if you were Dick?), the Primus got Michael Hare-Duke to demand George's resignation in The Sunday Times!!
Meanwhile, back at the Palace, Eileen was writing to the editor of the CT to cancel the family sub...
Eventful or not?
If you wrote it up in one of those satirical columns they used to have in New Directions (before I brought in a more wholesome approach) nobody would believe it!
But what does it mean? Will the AbC resign and disappoint the nation on its great night? I am hoping and praying not; but we have to have contingency plans. Our little emergency committee has been working day and night to ensure that whatever decision George-and-Eileen take there will be a forward-looking Church presence at the negotiated hour. Who knows, as Archbishops' Chaplain to the Millennium Experience I may even get a modest look in myself. So watch out for the Dawn French look-alike in the candy-stripped clericals holding the book!!
Meanwhile, in my own personal 'run-up-to-the-Millennium' I have been throwing myself whole-heartedly into the HTB 'Alka-Seltzer for Jesus' campaign, which I see as an imaginative contribution to our overall millennium strategy. The idea - as I see it - is to capitalise on the natural low that follows alcoholic euphoria (and there will be plenty of that around!!) to get people into the mood for a modest bit of Bible-bashing. When better for Alpha than when your resistance is low?
And speaking of lows, to tell the truth, I have not been having exactly the brightest of times myself. It's not that there are problems with Derek (our 'period of reception' looks as if it is going to have the outcome that all periods of reception should!); but I am having serious difficulties coping with my doubts. Let me explain.
Feminism, with which readers of New Directions may not have any personal or immediate contact, is based on a whole series of a priori assertions - about equality, justice and the rest. If you stop believing those (rather like a Christian who stops believing in the resurrection) you are in a mess. Rather more so in fact, because the average Christian is far more tolerant of the likes of Jack Spong than the sisterhood is ever inclined to be of a patriarchalist fellow-traveller.
My problem is that, ever since Italy, I have been undecided. There seem to be so many things that you have to believe in this game that I feel rather like Derek's sad little fundamentalist girlfriend. I have to swallow something new and impossible every morning before breakfast: Pope Joan; women presbyters in the NT; Junia the Apostle; Theodora Episcopa; the list goes on.
At our last meeting (when I told Brigitta that I would not be acting as honorary assistant at St Michael's any more) she looked me straight in the eye and said: 'Have you considered counselling?' I said that I could make my own decisions, thank you.
In fact, I was rather angry about it. But later on I began to think that is was not such a bad idea. I have been bad-tempered, disorganised and generally slovenly for too long. I need to sort things out.
Anyway, the other day I was passing the big old redbrick church on the way to the supermarket when I thought I might just drop in. A service was ending and the Vicar (balding, overweight and smelling of tobacco) was saying good-bye to some pious old dames. We got talking, and before I knew what I was doing, I was telling him more than I have told anyone for years. It just all spilled out, there in the gloom of the church, as though pouring my heart out to this absolute stranger was the most natural thing in the world.
'I didn't think I could ever talk to a man like this', I said, in what must have seemed a very backhanded complement. He smiled. 'I am under no illusions', he said. 'You're only talking to me like this right now because it's a long time since you talked properly to Him. I usually find that when people talk regularly to Him they have less need of me. Let's work together to put things right'.
In that fussy little chapel, smelling of furniture polish and stale incense, sitting on that uncomfortably straight-backed pew, I knew he was right.
He calls it 'spiritual direction'. I remain happier calling it 'counselling'. But, whatever, we are keeping it up on a regular basis.
April Heavisides is the Archbishops' Chaplain to the Millennium experience. She is an honorary canon of Southwark.
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