The Last Chronicle of Salchester

 

DIOCESE OF SALCHESTER 
(CHURCH OF ENGLAND)

Vacated by
Malcolm Longbridge

(who by a godless mockery of Holy Matrimony has shown himself to be shamelessly disobedient to the Word of God and careless of his own oaths of office)

this ancient See seeks a

New Bishop

We call upon all faithful clergy and parishes of the diocese to repudiate the ministry of this apostate and to join with us in the search for oversight and episcopal ministry in conformity with the law of Christ and the ancient formularies of the Church of England.

The Rector, Churchwardens and Parochial Church Council of Emmanuel, Cove

THE FIRST twelve months of an episcopate, as Malcolm Longbridge had long ago grasped, are spent in deciding how to get rid of the appointments made by one's predecessor, and how to get one's own, women and men into place. A diocesan is not truly a diocesan until surrounded by the little Versailles of his own appointees. Malcolm was no exception; and it had to be admitted that Derek Hemp, now peacefully tending his prize Worcester Saddlebacks in a quiet Cotswold village, had left him with some problems.

It was clear that the oldest suffragan had to go. He was a man in his mid-sixties; energetic, hard-working, pastoral, popular and opposed to the ordination of women. The combination of qualities was quite unacceptable in the New Salchester. But where could he be placed? Bishop Hugh Montefiore's lapidary phrase about 'throwing dead cats over a neighbour's fence' sprang immediately to mind; but the question was, whose fence? Nobody would want a chap like that, and yet, if he stayed on till seventy he could even outlast Longbridge himself (who was rather counting on a little upward translation). There was no telling how much damage he might do.

The only light on the horizon was the fact that the man in question had some years ago committed an indiscretion in a public lavatory in Weston-super-Mare. But how, Malcolm asked himself, could a former Episcopal Chaplain of the Pan Anglican Fellowship for Same Sex Partnerships find a way of taking advantage of that?

Archdeacons were a different matter. Malcolm knew that the race was on to appoint the Church of England's first female black Archdeacon, and he was determined that Southwark should not win again. Rural backwoods Salchester, he was determined would capture the prize; but that meant securing an early retirement or a suffragan see. He would have to have been bishoping for some years yet, Longbridge reflected, before he could call in favours the size of a suffragan bishopric, so this time round it would have to be early retirement. Should it be Tom, Dick or Harry?

He had, to tell the truth, not much of a liking for any of his predecessor's appointments. The ideal would be to get rid of all three at once; but that, he knew, would expose him to the politicking of the Chairman of the Diocesan Board of Finance. Hector Thistlethwaite believed that three Archdeacons and two suffragan bishops for a diocese of two hundred and five parishes was unwontedly extravagant. He had written a gratuitously negative paper '"at are Archdeacons for?' which had been circulated to members of the Diocesan Synod. Malcolm was well aware that a simultaneous interregnum in all three Archdeaconries during which the diocese functioned absolutely as normal would obviously not help. So Harry, it seemed, would have to be the first to go.

THE REVD SYLVIA Longbridge, as well as her official role as chaplain to the bishop her husband, was diocesan convener of WiMin (Women in Ministry) and a member of its National Committee. It was Sylvia who had found funding for the Bristle Report on the working of the Act of Synod, which had provided conclusive evidence of Satanic Woman Priest Abuse in the Home Counties.

But, as she walked across the close toward the meeting rooms in North Canonry where the sisters generally gathered, Sylvia did not have the pleasurable sense of anticipation which usually preceded such events. The purpose of the emergency meeting in question was to discuss the future status and role in WiMin of the Rev Prudence (soon to be the Rev Dick) Strong. There had rapidly emerged two conflicting parties.

The first, championed by Charlotte Anderson, a lay reader from Seventrees, took a hard-line: 'once-a-woman-always-a-woman'. 'What earthly difference', asked her friend and companion Gloria Dyce, 'does some pathetic little surgical appendage make? Prudence is one of us! Women have successfully stormed the Priesthood, now we are storming fortress Manhood itself?'

The second party, if less gong-ho, was no less adamant. It viewed Prudence as a defector and Dick as a traitor. There was no question of her remaining as Dean of Women's Ministry once she was a He. The Revd Dr Susan Langerkneckker, an American post-graduate student in Theology at the University of Salchester, and Custodian of the Labyrinth of the Hildegard of Bingen Community had written a passionate article for 'LOOKOUT!' (WiMin's bimonthly magazine).

Patriarchy, with its sickening distortion of truly human values, has been and always will be the enemy', she wrote. 'If a sister goes over to the Enemy she automatically loses her place in that seamless solidarity which is womanhood. What Prudence is proposing is not just a sex change - that would merely be to rearrange a few organs in a body which is itself no more than an unworthy receptacle of the Human Spirit. But Prudence is proposing, by that act, to ally herself with Maleness, and with all that through the centuries has oppressed womankind and demeaned humanity itself. It is one thing to be born male (a condition which is not sinful because not willed, and which can in any case be mitigated and reformed). It is quite another thing to want to be made, to seek to become... dare I say it?... Masculine.'

Sylvia was not sure on which side of the argument the bishop should come down, and she knew that she did not have long to decide. Turning the north corner of the West front of the Cathedral, the distant floodlights suddenly cast into high relief the niches and statuary placed there so long ago by Ranulf of Soissons. With equal suddenness the magnitude of her immediate problems dwindled as her eye lighted on the Cathedral notice board.

Its familiar wording, detailing the times of services and informing visitors that a charge of ŁA.00 would be levied upon entrance, had been replaced by another. It was clear now that Prudence was the least of the Bishop's worries.

Bridget Trollope is a lay member of the General Synod representing Barchester

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