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‘That Was The Church That Was’: Review by Richard Ashby


For those not old enough to remember, ‘That Was the Week That Was’  was a satirical television programme of the 1960s, starring David Frost, Millicent Martin, Bernard Levin and Willie Rushton who used their considerable talent and insight to comprehensively demolish the pretensions of the ‘establishment’ as part of the satire boom which also produced the still surviving magazine ‘Private Eye’. As such it was part of the movement which destroyed ‘deference’, one of the elements which has changed the Church of England over the past half century and more as identified by the authors of this entertaining book and which has contributed to its current existential crisis, where lack of direction, different visions of the future, ham-fisted leadership and illusory expectations combine both to alienate the Church from the people and offer most people nothing which will sustain them outside the material world in which most live these days.


Andrew Brown is a distinguished journalist, well known for his writings in both the Guardian and the Spectator, not the most likely of bedfellows. His press column in the Church Times is where I turn first when I get my weekly copy. Linda Woodhead joined the staff of a theological college and was so appalled by what she saw that, in order to understand what was happening, she retrained as a sociologist of religion and now spends a lot of time telling the Church things it doesn’t want to hear and getting scarce thanks for it.


One of the temptations when reading a book of joint authorship is to try and discern who has written what. Here it’s quite difficult. What unites the book is a rather racy style which may well emanate from the journalist in Andrew Brown. The exposure of the outrageous, hypocritical and mendacious behaviour of church people, both lay and ordained, alongside the cool statistical and sociological analysis makes for an entertaining romp while at the same time painting a picture of a Church in deep and probably terminal crisis. Indeed it’s really necessary to read this book twice, in order to separate out the two elements and in order to appreciate the depth to which the Church has sunk.


The book has much in common with ‘A Church at War’ by Stephen Bates, published in 2004, covering much of the same ground, in particular the disastrous Lambeth Conference of 1998. Conservative evangelicals, amply funded and prepared for by US money and manpower simply out gunned and out manoeuvred the more liberal and inclusive Anglicanism of previous generations when, with their African and third world allies, largely bankrolled by US dollars, they pushed through the notorious resolution Lambeth 1.10, which, along with ‘Issues’ has become the touchstone of ‘orthodoxy’ amongst too many Anglican leaders across the worldwide Communion. The farcical scene of the Revd Richard Kirker being exorcised of his homosexuality by an African Bishop only underlined the sense that this had been a coordinated and authorised lynching of gay people within the church.


It’s a pity though that the book seems to stop not much after the installation and the first year or so of Justin Welby’s episcopate. There is nothing about the Church’s reaction to civil partnerships or same sex marriage and the quadruple lock it engineered in parliament to save it from the embarrassment of having to itself prohibit same sex marriage. There is nothing about the disastrous ‘Valentine’s Day Statement’ or indeed the cack-handed reactions of Bishops to the fact of same sex marriage amongst the clergy and their indifference to the laity who wish for the Church’s blessing on their own marriages.


Surrounding this is much anecdote and informed gossip, which makes the book such a romp. (I would love to know what led to the first printing having to be pulped because of the threat of libel action. Just who is it who didn’t want their words or actions disclosed?) The hypocrisy of too many church people, the don’t ask don’t tell culture which gradually became an authorised intrusion into the private lives of honourable men and women, and the compromised and temporising behaviour of too many closeted gay men (and they are almost all men) both clerical and lay was and is a betrayal of all that Anglicanism and especially the Church of England is supposed to stand for.


Two Archbishops particularly get it in the neck. George Carey, chosen by Mrs Thatcher because she liked the alternative even less, presided and connived at Lambeth 1998. Having already decreed that there would never be another bishop like David Jenkins, he presided over an ineffectual so called ‘Decade of Evangelism’ which sent clergy scurrying around for good ideas to get more bums on seats and had no effect whatsoever. Rowan Williams, a good man, perhaps the most spiritual Archbishop the Church has produced for at least two generations and more, chose to put unity before truth, betrayed his friend and his principles. Having failed to prevent exactly the division he feared he retired with relief from the fray, leaving behind an even more fractured, unhappy and divided church; the sacrifice of his friends being to no avail in the end after all.


Alongside this is perhaps the more interesting though more difficult discussion of what went wrong. Church attendance has been declining for the past century and more and no one seems to know what to do about it. Linda Woodhead identifies four linked causes, all basically related to the changes in the society in which the Church is supposed to witness.


Firstly is the decline of deference or paternalism; the idea that there is someone above you who deserves your respect and to whom you instinctively defer. In a society where the individual is king and everyone’s views are equal to everyone else’s, authority figures lose their place. This can be seen in politics and other areas of civic life as well as in the Church. Moreover, against the moralising trend of much of the Church, western peoples have made up their own minds on the issues of the day such as divorce and remarriage, cohabitation, same sex relationships and abortion and the strictures of clerics have had little effect. Linda Woodhead seems to ascribe this decline to societal changes in the 1970s and the onset of Thatcherism and the politics of self-interest. I think it goes back much further, to at least the First World War and the bloody sacrifice of the working class soldiery by their political and military masters. Such attitudes also flourished after the trauma of World War 2 was abating; teenagers, teddy boys and then the satire movement all helped. Who can forget the scornful laughter when the judge asked the jury at the Lady Chatterley trial whether this was a book which their wives and servants should read? Or indeed Alan Bennett’s sermon in Beyond the Fringe, text ‘Now Esau was an hairy man but Jacob was a smooth man’ and the immortal line ‘Life is like a tin of sardines, you are always looking for the key’. This was rather too near the bone to be dismissed lightly.


Secondly, the Church has become increasingly cut off from wider society. The parson is no longer the ‘person’. The more the belief of the religious becomes separated from the society in which it finds itself the more such belief and practice is alien to the majority. Over the years much of the church has become more strident in what it demands in the way of belief. This is particularly evident in churches following the conservative evangelical line and amongst some traditional Anglo Catholics too. Holy Trinity Brompton with its enormously popular (though debatably effective in the longer term) Alpha franchise is an example where commitment and the direct debit might appeal to certain elements amongst the white middle classes and students, but which many find alienating precisely because of its requirement to sign up to its own creeds.


The third element which Linda identifies is ‘theology’ which she defines as ‘how you explain what you are doing, both to yourself and to others’. She doesn’t go into much detail, preferring to say that this is the least important of the three elements she identifies. But I think that this is crucial and I wonder why Linda relegates it to the also ran. My personal view is that it is impossible to be a conventional Christian in the 21st century and that agnosticism is the only honest approach. There is a dichotomy there which should be acknowledged. Scripture and the prayer book contain some lovely language and I believe that Choral Evensong is one of the highest art forms yet devised. But I have to ask what does it mean? Do we honestly believe what the words of the Creed mean? (I always think that it better to sing the Creed as the words take one naturally over the more difficult bits) What is salvation? Indeed what is ‘sin’ apart from a fairly obvious attempt at social control inherent in the Judeo/Christian heritage? In an age lacking deference how can God be the big man in the sky, usually angry and always judgemental? How on earth does anyone of any sensibility believe that the death of Christ on the cross is designed to avert God’s anger from us? ‘Cosmic child abuse’ said Steve Chalke, who instantly became a persona non grata amongst his fellow evangelicals. I almost fell out with a friend on Facebook recently who, attending Evensong for the first time in years, queried why the violent words of a certain psalm set for the day could be used. My attempts to explain history and context failed. Now my friend is the same age as me and has been through the same sort of educational process, but he honestly ‘doesn’t get it’, and indeed why should he?


Fourthly and perhaps as importantly as all the others, is the loss of women. Women have kept the church going, they always have. Away from the high politics of the men it was always the women who kept the show on the road, not only keeping the place clean, organising fetes and sales of work but also in working for the church as missionaries, church workers, teachers, in health care, with children and the vulnerable. They also prayed.


Two things happened. Firstly the welfare state, for which the church had argued and largely supported, removed many of these roles from church affiliation and were secularised. (The same happened with religious orders too of course.) Alongside this, as more and more women entered the workplace so the time and opportunity they might have had for extensive voluntary work became more limited.


Secondly was the battle over women priests and then bishops. The polarization this brought within the Church is difficult to underestimate. While polling showed that there were large majorities within the laity for the ordination of women, for years the activists in synod blocked any movement. While women came to participate fully in social and civic life; so the Church often cruelly and cynically kept them marginalised. The denigration of women was sometimes extreme. I remember being in a disreputable gay bar near London Bridge Station twenty years ago listening to leather clad gay clergy describe their ordained fellow women clergy with contempt and hatred. The result is that the church has lost the next generation of women. Those who remain have failed to bring their daughters and grand-daughters with them. The consequences are extremely serious.


Alongside this is the clericalisation of the Church and the exclusion of the laity from any sort of meaningful participation in the governance of the church by the undemocratic and unrepresentative structures of the Synod. We now have a caste of Bishops lacking vision and indeed theology, whose main aim seems to be to keep the lid on the boiling pot. They cannot act either prophetically or in any progressive way, fearful of leadership because of their fear of the strident opposition of the small minority, and who thus fail to do what they know to be right.


What is to be done? The authors describe some of the attempts made over the years, all to no avail. Carey’s ‘Decade of Evangelism’ along with what they describe as his ‘voodoo’ management changes seems only to be replicated in our current decade by the arch-managerialist Justin Welby. There is no evidence at all that importing discredited management techniques from the oil industry coupled with the development plans which every congregation and diocese is clearly under pressure to devise and implement, will have any effect whatever. The inevitable failure will only further the alienation of the faithful. Furthermore there is no evidence that plans to massively increase the number of the ordained will have anything like the effect desired either, whatever that is.


The majority of the English now have no religion. This doesn’t mean that concepts of spirituality have disappeared. The authors make the very good point that practices such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and Tai Chi are now part of everyday life. Numbers studying religion in schools have rocketed. It is organised religion to which so many are hostile and it is organised religion, as shown in our own Church of England which has lost the English people. Those who would do something about it seem to be planning to turn the Church into a sort of well managed HTB sect. In doing so they will kill it off forever.



That Was The Church That Was: How the Church of England Lost the English People. Andrew Brown and Linda Woodhead. Bloomsbury 2016

“The Church of England still seemed an essential part of Englishness, and even of the British state, when Mrs Thatcher was elected in 1979. The decades which followed saw a seismic shift in the foundations of the C of E, leading to the loss of more than half its members and much of its influence. In England today religion has become a toxic brand, and Anglicanism something done by other people. How did this happen? Is there any way back?”



I am indebted to Richard Ashby for this review. He was formerly Head of Libraries and Archives in Bath and North East Somerset. He now lives outside Chichester and is active in the Cathedral there. He is a lifelong member of the Church of England but has spent much of that life clinging on by his fingertips.



The ABC And The ABC Of The Anglican Communion

Rockefeller Centre NYC Atlas

Rockefeller Centre NYC Atlas

The Vortex

 Anyone who saw the Archbishop of Canterbury carry a wooden cross through the streets of Dover on Good Friday can be in little doubt that he feels genuine anguish at the agony the Anglican Communion perceives itself to be in, apparently incapable of resolution. On the one hand are the GAFCON countries, as convinced of the moral rectitude of their own position as any Pharisee; on the other are the rest of us, who find Galatians a better guide to Christianity than Leviticus.

On 4 April, somewhat unfortunately juxtaposed with his visit to The Episcopal Church, Archbishop Justin took part in a phone-in on LBC:

A subsequent report in the Daily Telegraph said:

The Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested he is powerless to provide blessings for gay marriages because to do so would split the global Anglican Church.  In an interview with The Telegraph, the Most Rev Justin Welby says that the Church had probably caused “great harm” to homosexuals in the past — but there was not always a “huge amount” that could be done now to rectify the situation. Although indicating that he was sympathetic to calls for the Church to publicly honour gay relationships, the Archbishop says that it is “impossible” for some followers in Africa to support homosexuality. In the interview, the leader of the Anglican Church, which has 77 million followers globally, speaks movingly of the persecution faced by Christians in parts of the world. He indicates that the Church must not take a step that would cut off these groups, most of them in the third world, however much this angers parts of society in Britain…“I do believe passionately that unity is something we have to maintain,” the Archbishop said privately soon afterwards. “I may be wrong, but I also believe that to take a step that means that people who desperately need our help — and who we can help — can’t take it, feel in their own culture that it is impossible to be helped by us, is something that we can’t easily do.”
Interview in the Telegraph, 18 Apr 2014

Possibilities for Reconciliation

Church leaders, when faced with an intractable situation, are given to dumping the whole problem on God, and asking Him to to sort things out. Sometimes, though, one senses that God’s response is to decline to accept, and kindly but firmly return the problem to us. One reason may be that he wants us to come up with a third possibility, to think again. For one thing:

“If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family – anything you like – at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder.”
C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

Send for a child of five

Imagine that you are faced with a set of impenetrably difficult assembly instructions from IKEA. What do you do? Well, for Groucho Marx the solution was:

A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five. 

A child of five might suggest the following:

The Anglican Communion is not a Church, it is a loose association of Christian churches which were set up by the Church of England in British colonies around the world two or three hundred years ago and which have since developed through the work of the Holy Spirit and according to the characteristics of the country in which they were implanted. Rather as the Queen has the courtesy title of ‘Head of the Commonwealth’, the Archbishop of Canterbury of the day is primus inter pares of all Anglican bishops. He is not the ‘head of the Anglican Church’, for there is no such thing.

What’s the problem? Each province is entitled, and has always been entitled, to interpret Christianity in the way that seems right in their own circumstances.

Er, that’s it.

Peaceful co-existence or mutually assured destruction

The Churches of the Anglican Communion are essentially faced with this choice. Either we try and follow Krushchev’s policy introduced in 1956 at the 20th Congress of the CPSU or those of us on the sidelines, powerless to halt our leaders from taking us into the vortex through their intransigence, are in little doubt that the alternative is mutually assured destruction. And all for the want of a child of five.

Sir Humphrey Appleby: the Establishment’s Secret Weapon?

This is the Morning Room of the Athenaeum Club, to whom I am indebted for the loan (from their website) of this photograph. As wikipedia puts it,

It is noted for its large library, and for a bas-relief frieze decorating the club house exterior. It was long regarded as a clergymen’s club and today includes Cabinet Ministers, senior civil servants, Peers of the Realm and senior bishops amongst its members.

A member of the Lay Anglicana forum and regular contributor to the blog, Charley Farns-Barns (possibly a nom de plume) had already suggested in the comments that the answer might be a Trojan Horse, to which I responded in my last post. Now I hand over the reins to him, as he explains to us his version of recent events:


 Part The First

It’d been a fine dinner but with the port, biscuits and cheese the bishops knew it hadn’t been a success.

“Well” said +Bath & Wells as he coughed and blew crumbs over his neighbours, “I think it’s time to call for Machiavelli”.

The Archbishop nodded and someone rose and went out. Sir Humphrey Appleby entered and slumped into a chair.

“I think you know our problem” said the Archbishop, “What is your advice?”

“Well, it’s very difficult. You’ve allowed women parish priests and they’re now bumping up against the glass ceiling and you’ve chosen the time of the Queen’s Jubilee which has demonstrated sixty years of benign and clever female rule. Not to mention the Thatcher Years of forthright and determined leadership. I don’t think it could be much worse.”

“So you mean to tell us that nothing can be done” declared +Bath & Wells.

“Ah, I’m sure if I meant that, I’d have found the form of words to say so” said Sir Humphrey smoothly. “Women bishops are inevitable of course, but I suspect you might be content if you never yourselves have to meet any.”

The bishops looked at one another and thought of what they had said about them in past. Sir Humphrey could see they’d got the point.

“No, what you need is a form of words that will incense the Sisterhood so much that they will strike down this measure themselves. You need to suggest they have some rottenness, something bad – no that’s too strong – some slight but fundamental unsoundness”.

“A taint?” someone said.

“Ah! That’s just the word!”

It had been a long time coming, thought Sir Humphrey, but they’d got there in the end. If they got it themselves they’d be pleased and feel a sort of ownership.
“Yes that will upset them nicely, enough to make them force the measure down. And it shouldn’t come back until after you’re all retired. It’s about the best you’ll get”.

Sir Humphrey pocketed the cheque and left amidst profuse thanks. He was always surprised and pleased how profitable retirement was.  As he made his way to Paddington for the country, he once again reflected that the essence of acceptable advice was to tease out what the customer had in his own mind and then just polish it up a bit.

Part The Second

Sir Humphrey Appleby strolled back home from St Dodo’s across the village green at Bishop’s Codpiece.   He was enjoying his retirement as a churchwarden, for the experience as Permanent Under Secretary had come in very useful in dealing with the arcane issues of the Church of England.   And then he saw the limousine parked in his drive.

He recognised it immediately, of course – clearly ++Rowan needed “Another Chat”.  He ushered Rowan in and waited for Mrs Blossom to put down the tea and cakes and leave the room.   With the formalities done, Rowan began to open up.  It was as Sir Humphrey thought; he noticed Rowan’s finger nails were chewed down to the quick.  As expected, the Sisterhood had risen to the bait, had bridled at the implication of “taint” and at first had declared that they wanted the amended motion on women bishops to be voted down.   But, while a section of them continued in this vein, the main body of women priests now began to see the advantage of at least some female bishops.  The idea had formed of a Trojan Horse, that once some female bishops had been created then others would inevitably follow, indeed, the floodgates would be opened and others rapidly follow.

Tired and weary, Rowan asked “What can I do?”

“Well” said Sir Humphrey, “not much.  After all, the idea of “taint” was a last desperate throw.  They’ve done the logical thing, they’ve seen that once there’s one female bishop she’ll show the sky doesn’t fall in and so others will follow and all resistance will fall away.   You’ve lost it, Rowan”.

Rowan chewed a nail and was silent.  Sir Humphrey sensed there was more and then saw a way to ease it out.   “Rowan, think of happier times.  Remember when you met the Pope?  All that pomp and ceremony?” Rowan stirred.  “Do you know, I think that any disinterested party, say a newly arrived Martian, would see those two, the tall bearded chap in a golden cloak and high mitre next to that small simple fellow in a linen habit and he would have thought you were the Pope and the little man the Protestant!”  He saw Rowan smile and knew he was close.   “And you’re a scholar too; I bet you speak better Latin and Greek than most of them in the Vatican”.

Rowan looked straight at him and said “You’ve guessed haven’t you?”

“Well it’s not been difficult” replied Sir Humphrey. “First there’s your early retirement and then I always thought that your Covenant was an attempt to ease the dear old CofE closer to Rome.   But these women bishops will make Rome run screaming.  Rome’s where your heart lies, isn’t it?  But you’ll leave a recent interval after retirement won’t you before you do a Newman and swim the Tiber?   Say six months?  And if you value your scalp I wouldn’t tell the Queen if I were you.”

Rowan sighed and got up to leave. “I have your confidence?” he asked.

“As always” replied Sir Humphrey, “and I’ll watch your progress with great interest”.

“Ah, that old Civil Service curse” said Rowan as got into the back of the limousine and was driven away.

The Tipping Point?


Many of those in the pews share my perception (until now) of the Church of England as a monolith not unlike Kafka’s castle:

The narrator, K, arrives in a village governed by a mysterious bureaucracy that resides in a nearby castle.  An official named Klamm tells K he will inform the Council Chairman of K’s arrival. This Council Chairman then tells K. that, through a mix up in communication between the castle and the village, his presence was requested by mistake, but offers K instead the position of caretaker. Meanwhile, K, unfamiliar with the customs, bureaucracy and processes of the village, continues to attempt to reach Klamm, which the villagers regard as strongly taboo. The villagers hold the officials and the castle in the highest regard, justifying their actions even though they appear not to know what the officials do.  Assumptions and justifications concerning the officials and their dealings are set out in lengthy monologues by the villagers. Everyone has their own explanation for the actions of any particular official, but these are all founded on assumptions and gossip. Actions by the officials are often impenetrable and contradictory, but the villagers continue to praise the officials who, in their eyes, can do no wrong. The castle is the ultimate bureaucracy with copious amounts of paperwork that the bureaucracy maintains is “flawless”. This flawlessness is, of course, an illusion; it was a flaw in the paperwork that erroneously brought K to the village… The castle’s occupants appear to be all adult men…

In the case of the Church, it is the chancel steps which divide ‘castle’ and ‘village’. The castle-dwellers, with all the advantages of possessing the hill-top known to combatants of old, let loose well-aimed arrows at those in favour of women bishops, the autistic,  members of the LGBT community and others in unproductive marriages (presumably including the childless).


But this may all be about to change? Like a butterfly beating its wings in the Amazonian jungle,  scattered and puny efforts by  hundreds and thousands of individuals seeking a rainbow Church, in which all of God’s creation is welcomed into a loving, inclusive Body of  Christ may, just may, be about to bear fruit. As we look back in years to come, I think Bishop Nick Holtam’s interview will stand out as the moment that the tide finally turned. Also important, however, in the same week (just before General Synod) was  a group of clergy in the Diocese of London signing a letter calling for the Church of England to reverse its ban on civil partnership ceremonies being held in churches.


I won’t quote Arthur Hugh Clough’s poem ‘say not the struggle naught availeth‘ yet again (though it may tempt you to follow the link if I tell you the lines are spoken by Paul Scofield with ‘Nimrod’ in the background). Instead, I offer a short extract from the lyrical description of the end of winter and the reign of the White Witch  in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’:

Every moment the patches of green grew bigger and the patches of snow grew smaller…soon, wherever you looked, instead of white shapes you saw the dark green of firs…then the mist turned from white to gold and presently cleared away altogether. Shafts of delicious sunlight struck down on to the forest floor and overhead you could see a blue sky between the tree-tops. Soon there were more wonderful things happening…he noticed a dozen crocuses growing round the foot of an old tree – gold and purple and white. Then came a sound even more delicious than the sound of the water. Close beside the path they were following a bird suddenly chirped from the branch of a tree…’This is no thaw’, said the dwarf, suddenly stopping. This is Spring. What are we to do? Your winter has been destroyed, I tell you! This is Aslan‘s doing.’


If we are to have a Spring in the Anglican Church, it will not be like the October Revolution of 1917: I foresee no storming of Lambeth Palace, its residents may be relieved to hear. The nature of the revolution (and, if it comes, it will be a revolution, not a mere revolt) is more akin to the wisdom of the Eastern book, the I Ching: The overlapping hexagrams 39 and 55 read:

“An obstruction that lasts only for a time is useful for self-development. That is the value of adversity…the obstruction is overcome not by pressing forward into danger, nor by idly keeping still, but by retreating, yielding…water on the top of a mountain cannot flow down in accordance with its nature, because rocks hinder it. It must stand still. This causes it to increase, and the inner accumulation finally becomes so great that it overflows the barriers. The way of overcoming obstacles lies in turning inward and raising one’s own being to a higher level.”


I pay tribute to my fellow-campaigners, who have almost universally had the spiritual strength not to storm the barricades, but to retreat and yield until the water should reach a higher level. But has that moment finally come? Is it premature to dream of singing in unison Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy‘ (which needs liberating from its EU national anthem status to an expression of heavenly ecstasy as intended)? Will Hyde Park be big enough to contain us all for a big sing, do you think?

Well, Are You Your Brother’s Keeper?

Tomorrow, January 27th, has been held as Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK since 2001. This is a message recorded by Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, to mark the day. You can read it in full, together with some background here. For once, I am in complete agreement with ++Rowan about the message, ‘Speak Up and Speak Out’, but we differ in our interpretations.

Although I am neither a woman priest who is called to be a Bishop, nor a member of the LGBT community seeking acceptance in an Inclusive Church, I will, in the words attributed to Voltaire, defend to the death the rights of women priests and the LGBT community to be fully accepted into a loving and inclusive Anglican Church.


In 1933, Martin Niemoeller, a leader of the Confessing Church, voted for the Nazi party. By 1938, he was in a concentration camp. After the war, he is believed to have said:

“In Germany, the Nazis came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me.”


A similar point is made by Maurice Ogden in his poem, “The Hangman.” Though it may be doggerel, this is a chilling poem, made all the more thought-provoking  by the memorable accompanying film. If you can spare it, this is well worth ten minutes of your time, though I do not guarantee you an unclouded night’s sleep afterwards.


Into our town the Hangman came, Smelling of gold and blood and flame–
And he paced our bricks with a diffident air And built his frame on the courthouse square.
The scaffold stood by the courthouse side, Only as wide as the door was wide;
A frame as tall, or little more,Than the capping sill of the courthouse door.
And we wondered, whenever we had the time, Who the criminal, what the crime,
That Hangman judged with the yellow twist of knotted hemp in his busy fist.
And innocent though we were, with dread We passed those eyes of buckshot lead;
Till one cried: “Hangman, who is he For whom you raise the gallows-tree?”
Then a twinkle grew in the buckshot eye, And he gave us a riddle instead of reply:
“He who serves me best,” said he,“Shall earn the rope on the gallows-tree.”
And he stepped down, and laid his hand On a man who came from another land.
And we breathed again, for another’s grief At the Hangman’s hand was our relief.
And the gallows-frame on the courthouse lawn By tomorrow’s sun would be struck and gone.
So we gave him way, and no one spoke,Out of respect for his hangman’s cloak.
The next day’s sun looked mildly down On roof and street in our quiet town
And, stark and black in the morning air,The gallows-tree on the courthouse square.
And the Hangman stood at his usual stand With the yellow hemp in his busy hand;
With his buckshot eye and his jaw like a pike And his air so knowing and businesslike.
And we cried: “Hangman, have you not done,Yesterday, with the alien one?”
Then we fell silent, and stood amazed:“Oh, not for him was the gallows raised…”
He laughed a laugh as he looked at us:“…Did you think I’d gone to all this fuss
To hang one man? That’s a thing I do To stretch the rope when the rope is new.”
Then one cried “Murderer!” One cried “Shame!”And into our midst the Hangman came
To that man’s place. “Do you hold,” said he,“With him that’s meant for the gallows-tree?”
And he laid his hand on that one’s arm,And we shrank back in quick alarm,
And we gave him way, and no one spoke Out of fear of his hangman’s cloak.
That night we saw with dread surprise The Hangman’s scaffold had grown in size.
Fed by the blood beneath the chute The gallows-tree had taken root;
Now as wide, or a little more,Than the steps that led to the courthouse door,
As tall as the writing, or nearly as tall,Halfway up on the courthouse wall.
The third he took – and we had all heard tell –Was a usurer and infidel, And:
“What,” said the Hangman, “have you to do With the gallows-bound, and he a Jew?”
And we cried out: “Is this one he Who has served you well and faithfully?”
The Hangman smiled: “It’s a clever scheme To try the strength of the gallows-beam.”
The fourth man’s dark, accusing song Had scratched out comfort hard and long;
And “What concern,“ he gave us back,“Have you for the doomed – the doomed and black?”
The fifth. The sixth. And we cried again:“Hangman, Hangman, is this the man?”
“It’s a trick,” he said, “that we hangmen know For easing the trap when the trap springs slow.”
And so we ceased and asked no more,As the Hangman tallied his bloody score;
And sun by sun, and night by night,The gallows grew to monstrous height.
The wings of the scaffold opened wide Till they covered the square from side to side;
And the monster cross-beam, looking down,Cast its shadow across the town.
Then through the town the Hangman came And called in the empty streets my name.
And I looked at the gallows soaring tall And thought: “There is no left at all
For hanging, and so he calls to me To help him pull down the gallows-tree.”
And I went out with right good hope To the Hangman’s tree and the Hangman’s rope.
He smiled at me as I came down To the courthouse square through the silent town,
And supple and stretched in his busy hand Was the yellow twist of them hempen strand.
And he whistled his tune as he tried the trap And it sprang down with a ready snap –
And then with a smile of awful command He laid his hand upon my hand.
“You tricked me, Hangman!” I shouted then,“That your scaffold was built for other men….
And I no henchman of yours,” I cried.“You lied to me, Hangman, foully lied!”
Then a twinkle grew in the buckshot eye:“Lied to you? Tricked you?” he said, “Not I
For I answered straight and I told you true:The scaffold was raised for none but you.
“For who has served me more faithfully Than you with your coward’s hope?” said he,
“And where are the others that might have stood Side by your side in the common good?”
“Dead,” I whispered; and amiably “Murdered,” the Hangman corrected me;
“First the alien, then the Jew…I did no more than you let me do.”
Beneath the beam that blocked the sky,None had stood so alone as I –
And the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there Cried “Stay!” for me in the empty square.



Do visit Emma Major’s blog of today called ‘Speak Up, Speak Out’ on Holocaust Memorial Day. You may also like to visit the Holocaust Memorial Day website, whose theme this year is ‘Speak Up, Speak Out.


‘Peace In Our Time’?

Lambeth Palace

Picture the scene. It is late summer 2012, the NACC have lost the battle and the General Synod of the Church of England has voted to sign up to the Anglican Covenant.

This news, as you can imagine, was greeted with jubilation by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. They celebrated by carousing  late into the night with the meister spinners of Lambeth as they downed shandy after shandy until the small hours, basking in a warm glow of mutual congratulation.  But now it was the cold grey dawn of the morning after. Nursing an only slightly sore head, Archbishop Rowan presented himself at the breakfast table.  What a relief it was going to be not to have to worry about that infernal (sorry, tiresome) document ever again! He tucked into his bacon and eggs before striding out to the red carpet and dais, which had been set out in front of Lambeth Palace so that he could announce this triumph to his assembled people and wave the Covenant at them.


An Anglican Subject Writes

At this point, dear reader, I invite you to explore with me a tangential thought. Recall, if you will, the two recent Gulf Wars, each with a President George Bush at the helm. The first had limited but defined aims; when these had been achieved the allied troops left Iraq. In 2003, however, GWB’s premature announcement of ‘victory’ was followed by a further eight years of military occupation. Do you share my suspicion that this was, at least in part, because no one had made any plans for what was to happen after the fall of Baghdad?  Do you go on to share my suspicion that no one at Lambeth Palace has made any plans for what is to happen as a result of the signing of the so-called Anglican Covenant, which is no gentlemen’s agreement sealed by a handshake as you might infer from the use of this word, but a legally binding international treaty? In the Church of England, Canon Law will have to be re-written to incorporate the provisions we have now committed ourselves to.


‘Those Who Do Not Remember History Are Condemned to Repeat It’

I apologise if you think the following parallel is melodramatic, not to say histrionic. But consider:

  • Belligerent forces apparently intent on world domination assert their demands
  • Attempts to deflect warfare by talks and international enquiries do not succeed in silencing the belligerents
  • Finally, in a last desperate attempt at appeasement, the leader offers a piece of paper giving in to almost all the demands in the hope that this will secure ‘peace in our time’.

Neville Chamberlain, announcing the Munich Agreement in 1938:

…the settlement of the Czechoslovakian problem, which has now been achieved is, in my view, only the prelude to a larger settlement in which all Europe may find peace. This morning I had another talk with the German Chancellor, Herr Hitler, and here is the paper which bears his name upon it as well as mine (waves paper to the crowd – receiving loud cheers and “Hear Hears”). Some of you, perhaps, have already heard what it contains but I would just like to read it to you …My good friends, for the second time in our history a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time.”


Winston Churchill, denouncing the Agreement in the House of Commons:

“We have suffered a total and unmitigated defeat… you will find that in a period of time which may be measured by years, but may be measured by months, Czechoslovakia will be engulfed in the Nazi régime. We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude…we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road…we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies: “Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting”. And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.”


Personal Entreaty

Archbishop Rowan, I appeal to you on behalf of  the Anglican Communion as a whole: in the name of God, please reconsider. Today Chamberlain is remembered in disgrace, Churchill as a national hero. Let it not be said of you: ‘Thou wast weighed in the balance and found wanting’.

The Dowager Countess of Grantham Invites the Primate to Tea


The No Anglican Covenant Brigade, in an attempt to halt the Covenant juggernaut, has tried reasoned analysis, expostulation, satire and mockery.  This blog alone has invoked, inter alia, Cassandra, Elizabeth I, Trollope and inter-galactic law. Though some members have been tempted, the group has not yet resorted to sabotage or blackmail. Although the time may yet come for the dreadful final option of the Charge of the NAC Brigade, there remains another possibility.


It is time to send in a Great British Battleaxe. Surely even Archbishop Rowan would quake in his shoes if faced with one of these in full sail? Margaret Thatcher in her prime perhaps? But no real woman can truly match the great battleaxes of fiction: Mrs Proudie, Lady Bracknell, Lady Catherine de Bourgh or, her latest triumphant incarnation, Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham, the real star of Julian Fellowes’ latest entertainment, Downton Abbey.


From this impressive list, let us choose the Dowager Countess for this important role. She is so clearly a woman of unshakeable self-confidence, at her prime in the Edwardian era when her class was at its most supremely confident.  After many years of practice in  bending the local clergy to her will, (as is apparent from this scene requiring her to persuade the vicar to perform what he regards a dubious marriage), she is surely as ready as anyone to take on the Archbishop.

[Spoiler warning for American viewers – this clip is ahead of you]


Let us imagine the meeting. Holding court at Highclere Castle, Lady Grantham invites the Archbishop to break his journey to the ancient diocese of Winchester, where he is visiting the new bishop. While perched on an uncomfortably spindly French antique chair, the Archbishop is obliged to balance his teacup, saucer, teaspoon, side plate, cucumber sandwich and starched organdie table napkin. (Gamesmanship was not the invention of Stephen Potter, he merely named an ancient social ruse for discomfiting one’s opponent).

Lady G: So do explain to me, Archbishop, what is this Covenant that one hears so much about in Church circles?

Archbishop: [embarks on long-winded explanation]

Lady G: [interrupting] So in future, we shall have to find our vicars from amongst those of whom you personally approve, not just those who have been ordained?

Archbishop: Well no, it won’t really work quite like that,…

Lady G: But you don’t know how it’s going to work out, do you? You produce pages and pages of small print, which you expect us all to sign up to, and you throw in everything but the kitchen sink without explaining how you can put two mutually exclusive provisions in the same document. Did you think we wouldn’t notice, just because the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral comes at the beginning and this unspeakably unChristian section four comes at the end? The Highclere Women’s Institute discussed the whole thing at our meeting here last week, and we are all agreed that it is the most appalling document. For goodness sake, Archbishop, you really must do something to extricate us from this quagmire you have dragged us all into!

Archbishop: [chastened] Well I don’t see how we can get out of it now. I keep asking ‘what is the alternative’!

Lady G: Really Archbishop! Yes, we hear you asking, but why aren’t you listening to the replies? There are plenty of alternatives. Gracious me, I can’t think why you don’t simply say God has told you to go back to the first principles of Hooker and the Quadrilateral. Everyone is free to interpret Anglicanism for their own time and place, using scripture, reason and tradition. What’s wrong with that? Nice, simple and clear.

Archbishop: Yes, but you see many of the Provinces will simply not accept the way other Provinces interpret Anglicanism.

Lady G: So?

Archbishop: So they are threatening to leave.

Lady G: Well, let them do so. What a fuss, all because you seem so determined to let the tail wag the dog. Extraordinary!

Archbishop: But the Anglican Communion will break up! And while I am the Archbishop of Canterbury!

Lady G: If they leave, they leave. At least what remains will still be a communion of Anglicans. And most will rejoin in time, you’ll see. For goodness sake, man, pull yourself together!


The Legend of King Canute


King Canute is not to be confused with the real King Cnut, the much-misunderstood 11th century Viking leader and King of England. Many attempts have been made to correct the legend which has grown up around him, for example here, here and here. But legends about historical figures (compare the unlikely story about King Alfred burning the woman’s cakes) are sometimes more interesting than the real thing. According to the version of the legend I need for this post,

“Canute is famous for the tale of the incoming tide. According to legend, Canute’s courtiers flattered him into believing that his word was so powerful that even the tide would recede at his command. Canute is said to have taken this compliment literally and had his throne placed by the shore and vainly attempted to command the waves to recede until he almost drowned.”

The reality in which King Canute lived, and the reality experienced by all others in his realm, bore little relation to each other. I expect you can see where I am going with this – I am inescapably reminded of the present Archbishop of Canterbury, about whom I have recently been accused  of being ‘waspish‘.  (I think this is fair comment, but can only plead that his plans to introduce central command and control into my beloved Church of England make me very cross indeed. His Ninja Nuns form such a tight circle around him that I would have no chance of punching him on the nose, and it is not really my style. Waspishness is the weapon of the weak and I have no other tools at my disposal).

The comparison to King Canute has been occasioned by Archbishop Rowan’s Advent letter to the other Primates of the Anglican Communion. Paragraph 7 reads as follows (the bolding is mine):

This of course relates also to the continuing discussion of the Anglican Covenant. How it is discussed, the timescale of discussion and the means by which decisions are reached will vary a lot from Province to Province. We hope to see a full report of progress at next year’s Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting. In spite of many assurances, some Anglicans evidently still think that the Covenant changes the structure of our Communion or that it gives some sort of absolute power of ‘excommunication’ to some undemocratic or unrepresentative body. With all respect to those who have raised these concerns, I must repeat that I do not see the Covenant in this light at all. It sets out an understanding of our common life and common faith and in the light of that proposes making a mutual promise to consult and attend to each other, freely undertaken. It recognizes that not doing this damages our relations profoundly. It outlines a procedure, such as we urgently need, for attempting reconciliation and for indicating the sorts of consequences that might result from a failure to be fully reconciled. It alters no Province’s constitution, as it has no canonical force independent of the life of the Provinces. It does not create some unaccountable and remote new authority but seeks to identify a representative group that might exercise a crucial advisory function. I continue to ask what alternatives there are if we want to agree on ways of limiting damage, managing conflict and facing with honesty the actual effects of greater disunity. In the absence of such alternatives, I must continue to commend the Covenant as strongly as I can to all who are considering its future.

I have highlighted the sentence which makes me think that Archbishop Rowan and I are living on different planets. Both Canon Alan Perry and the Revd Malcolm have already written in detail and with conviction about the oddities of this letter and I urge you to read their blog posts. But the sentence in bold type represents a view of reality which I find incomprehensible. How can 5,123 words possibly change the longstanding differences in the way we (each Province in the Communion) hold our forks, say tomayto or tomahto, elect or appoint our bishops and believe that there should be three or four orders of priesthood?  We should not even be trying to make ourselves all identical. We should instead be reminding each other that, while our Anglican neighbours may have motes in their eyes, we very probably have beams in our own.

Can it be that Archbishop Rowan is suffering from ‘courtier-itis’? It happened to Margaret Thatcher after she had been in office for a while, and it happened to Indira Gandhi. It has certainly happened to any number of tinpot dictators around the world. The version of reality that reaches rulers is sifted by courtiers and lacks the salty tang of the world encountered by the rest of us. Sometimes the ruler views life from another planet as a result, and at the very least he or she may develop astigmatism.

Don’t Shoot The Messenger


As one of many voices trying to bring the uncomfortable truth about the proposed Anglican Covenant to the people of the world, I know only too well that the bearer of bad news is unlikely to be popular.

For it has to be admitted that facing up to the truth and acting on it is likely to be awkward and uncomfortable. It would be much more pleasant for all concerned simply to go along with what the Archbishop of Canterbury is asking the Anglican Communion in general, and the Church of England in particular, to do.  After all, if you can’t trust the Archbishop of Canterbury to have the interests of his flock as his prime concern, whom can you trust?

It seems unlikely that Archbishop Rowan has ever sought the advice of an image consultant but he has nevertheless – by luck or good management – achieved a degree of cuddliness unimaginable in his predecessors. With his height, his shock of grey hair and, above all, his impressive eyebrows, he could have chosen to play the role of Elijah, thundering from the mountain-top. But instead (almost certainly quite unconsciously), he has used his attractively modulated voice and his obvious delight in the company of children to project a personality which has led to his being impersonated, not just by a knitted doll but also a woolly bear.

In these circumstances, it is difficult to persuade people that any nostrum advanced by ‘Uncle’ Rowan could be anything other than the panacea that he promises.

“Just a spoonful of medicine, come on now, just to please Uncle Rowan.”

He might as well add, ‘Coochy, coochy, coo!”

Or  “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”.

But where’s the sugar?

Well, I don’t want to shock those of you who have been gently reared, and cannot believe that the General Synod of the Church of England could possibly have anything to do with politics or politicking, but it is rumoured that there will indeed be some sugar on hand to help the medicine go down, and that is the admission of women to the episcopate. If the denizens of General Synod  swallow their Anglican Covenant medicine like good little boys and girls, then Uncle Rowan will let them have women bishops. See what a clever Uncle Rowan we have!

At this point in the story, the spoilsports who arrive to point out that the medicine may have fatal side effects are naturally likely to be hissed like pantomime villains. But their (our) role, which we hope does not turn out to be a tragic one, is to play the part of Cassandra. The daughter of Priam, the King of Troy, she was given the gift of prophecy by the god Apollo: she could see with perfect clarity into the future.  Unfortunately, because she rejected Apollo’s advances, Cassandra was then cursed that her visions, ever more tragic, would never be believed. But her visions were all to come true.





The main illustration is ‘A trumpeting of golden music’ by xtremer via Shutterstock.

The bear is by Madeley Bears; the doll is by Fiona Goble, ‘Knit your own royal wedding’

The painting of Cassandra is by Evelyn de Morgan, via wikipedia

‘Live Free Or Die’


Yesterday, Remembrance Sunday, we remembered them.

And on Friday 11 November, Armistice Day  itself, we remembered them.

We remembered those who died that we might live free.

We remembered those who died in the first World War, ‘the war to end all wars’.

And we remembered all those who have died in all the wars since.


We who remain have a debt of honour to repay. All that the fallen require of us to justify their sacrifice is to fight, fight and fight again to safeguard the liberty that we, and our allies in war, now enjoy.

The phrase ‘Live Free or Die‘ has a history dating back at least to the Enlightenment, but my favourite use of it is on the licence plates for the state of New Hampshire. Other states have innocuous-sounding phrases like ‘the sunshine state’, but you know you have reached New England when you see this admonition on the car in front of you on the motorway (sorry, expressway).

Where now comes the threat to our liberty? You need look no further than Lambeth Palace (see previous post on ‘Countdown to the Chains of the Anglican Covenant’). So what if the intention is not  the enslavement of Anglicans around the world to the ‘Instruments of Communion’? – do you not think that this phrase has chillingly Orwellian tones? – our enslavement is what will be the result. The post-Covenant character of Anglicanism will be a totalitarian régime which seeks, not episcopal oversight, but archiepiscopal and episcopal thought control. If you think I am exaggerating, I invite you to look at the documents produced by the lobby in favour of the Covenant and then re-read the Newspeak of 1984.

Anglicanism has always offered its adherents a faith less concerned with the minutiae of doctrine (holding such debate up to ridicule by characterising it as the discussion of how many angels could fit on the head of a pin) than how to lead a Christian life, informed by the creeds and 39 Articles and inspired by Hooker’s scripture, tradition and reason. The Covenant takes 5,123 words to describe future doctrine, which will be enforced by the Instruments of Communion,  rather than individual conscience which has sufficed in the past.

Now is the time for the silent majority to wake up to the tiger that is at the gates




I know that I have written two consecutive posts about the threat to Anglicanism which I believe is posed by the Anglican Covenant. I realise that I risk losing my readership, but this risk is the least that I am ready to do. For me, the cartoon’s punch-line ‘If you know of a better hole, then go to it’ is not an option – I have no wish to worship anywhere other than the Church of England, as currently constituted, that I love.

If you need to remind yourself of what we tend to call ‘the Dunkirk spirit’, referring to the second world war, I urge you to read, thanks to Project Gutenberg, Fragments From France, by Captain Bruce Bairnsfather, which describes the first world war.  The illustration is taken from its cover.

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