30 DAYS, MAY 2000

 

ANY OPORTO IN A STORM.

Those who were privileged to be at Lambeth 98 will never forget the huge teams of clerical press officers and spin doctors whose task was to ensure favourable (or at least neutral) coverage in the press. Many of the religious correspondents (whose task, in persuading their editors that religious news is worth covering at all, is not an easy one at the best of times) can scarcely speak about the behaviour of Bill Beaver's battalions, even two years on, without foaming at the mouth. Needless to say much was learned by the communications unit and improvements made.

So, to Oporto - the much vaunted showdown between the American hierarchy and Christian Anglicans (Referee: G. Carey, Esq.). But the whole event was so shrouded in secrecy that, by comparison, a lodge initiation into the order of the Rosy Cross seems like a stand at the Ideal Home Exhibition.

Hacks were reduced to telephoto lenses and shouting questions to a tribe of Trappist primates. Finally, Archbishop Robin Eames promised a closing press conference. The hacks arrived only to be informed that the archbishops had fled to the airport and no conference would take place. A communiqué was then promised which would be faxed to correspondents immediately. The lady from The Church Times waited vainly by her hotel fax for several hours. It eventually arrived at her home in Nottingham, England, three days later.

Relations between the press and the various Anglican Communications Units are, one might say, back to normal.

CARELESS PRAYER COSTS JOBS.

Back in Blighty, the BBC was planning to do a piece for the "Today" programme on the new Common Worship book. A "favourable" clergyman was lined up and then the hunt began for someone less keen on liturgical novelty. Just as the Beeb had secured the required animal and all was ready, a telephone call from El Beaver himself was received. The piece could not proceed, Common Worship was embargoed for a further 24 hours. (This is a document that has been endlessly discussed in synod, reported in the press, drafted on the Internet, road tested in hundreds of parishes, so it was clearly top secret.)

The whole thing had to be rescheduled and new speakers found to accommodate the CofE's obsessive secrecy and control freak tendency. My, the producer and the researchers were impressed!

As the piece had nothing to do with sex, bishops expenses or attendance figures one can only assume that everything is now a secret unless deemed otherwise by the "|Office of Public Enlightenment"

ALL CHANGE AT ELY.

Over the years Ely diocese has had a reputation for being rewarded with "dull but clever" bishops. (Cambridge University and two theological colleges being just down the road). The last Bishop, Stephen Sykes, finally gave up on the drab, damp one-horse town and "Fen Poly" to retreat to a university post last year. Now the good burghers of Ely are to be rewarded with a far from dull bishop.

Step forward Anthony John Russell, Bishop of Dorchester since 1988. The last time Russell (Runcie '65) was seriously in the news was when he was appointed to Dorchester and demanded huge amounts of dosh be spent on his episcopal country seat. Russell, who is seriously well heeled himself and with family farming interests will not be starting at Ely until November. The palace may well need a substantial refit and quite what the new stabling requirements may be is not clear.

However, "Farmer Tone" has been in the news already - defending genetically modified food. This must be literally a godsend to the flagging government policy to get us to accept mutating vegetables.

THE AMERICAN WAY.

An English reader abroad found himself in Washington Cathedral. Having heard much of the heretical goings on that have (disgraced that particular house of prayer, he was intrigued to find himself enjoying a very traditional Book of Common Prayer Holy Communion (priestess assistant aside).

He was intrigued to discover, further on in the order of service, an advertisement for a cathedral event which may be of some assistance in the present financial crisis in the Church of England. Entitled, "SPIRITUAL and BILLABLE", we are invited to hear Dr. Stephen Covey outline his view that "the needs of organisations and individuals are essentially the same - to live, to love, to learn and....to leave a legacy"!

Just a matter of time e before Carey's Cabinet hires the "FRANKLIN COVEY COMPANY-- one of the world's largest management and leadership development organisations" surely.

WOMAN'S RITES.

The National Society and Church House Publishing produce glossy A4 brochures on Baptism, Godparenting and Marriage. The marriage one is beautifully balanced racially- two black weddings, four white weddings, one Asian/white wedding etc. However, when it comes to the service, both large pictures show priestesses officiating and both in very traditional settings. There is one other picture, the size of a large first class stamp, with a distant figure of indeterminate gender celebrating against a hideous modernist backdrop.

The message seems clear - priestesses are the norm. One curiosity however is that one of the ladies looks like a sixth former but is already wearing a purple shirt. The other prophetic sign is on the front of the Godparenting brochure where, of the nine photographs on the cover only two are identifiable as male. This may be a fair reflection of male membership levels once the Church of England is fully feminised - just over 20 per cent.

GET A GRIP.

Oh dear! Some poor dear retired clergyman has written to alert 30 Days to the practice of the Southwark Diocesan Retirement Officer inviting, on behalf of the bishop, "retired clergy and their partners" to events. That such things happen in Southwark could surprise only those who have led the most sheltered lives.

What is much more intriguing is the description of the most recent "partners" event.: "A Special Eucharist at the cathedral - followed by a restricted finger buffet" Some arcane form of digital bondage or just a "get to know one another" game where you have to pass the vol au vents without using your hands?

THE DEAN'S TAIL.

"My dear people", writes the Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane, "During March, in response to prayer pressure, I spent five days at St George's Cathedral exercising a ministry of presence and listening. It became clear to me that the recent events at the cathedral had caused a deep pain, hurt, wounded ness and brokenness. Consequently, the Dean as chief pastor went through considerable stress."

As well he might. Behind this grisly western liberal counselling jargon is a fascinating little tale - or rather tail. The Dean, one Rowan Smith, who went to South Africa in the year Desmond Tutu returned, 1967, had posed for a "public service film" in support of the South African Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Mr Smith, who has made no secret of his sexuality, is shown in full vestments at the altar, intoning, "They say that homosexuals are the devil's spawn , but I don't believe that."

As Mr Smith turns from the altar, popping out from under his garments is the devil's tail. Mr Smith, who was staying in Seattle while the Archbishop sorted out the furore, will not, of course be sacked. He has been given "time out for therapy" and "a three months sabbatical soon after Easter". So that's all right then.

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