THE LITTLE River Sal, which in mid-summer was a mere trickle at the bottom of the orchard, was now swollen by the lengthy autumn rains into a torrent which none could pass, tearing earth from the roots of ancient trees. Archdeacon Henry Colecatcher listened to the roaring of the water. The mill pond had already overflowed into Cheap Street. There were flood warnings out for Salpuddle, Salton and Salbury. The baker’s van from Witchett’s Hinton had not reached the village for four days.

The Archdeacon of Salpuddle was a man less given than most to agitation. A long-distance runner at the University (where his undistinguished degree had been attributed by some to an imprudent concentration on athletics at the expense of theology), he had endured patiently and with fortitude the premature death of his wife Rose from an inoperable cancer, and the motor car accident which had ended in fatality for his son Tom and the other three occupants of elderly Volvo which he had lent them for weekend visit to London.

Asked by an old friend how he had managed to survive those two dreadful years with faith and pastoral heart intact, he had simply replied, with a tired smile, that he was like a shop in the blitz – ‘more open than usual’.

Harry knew that Malcolm wanted rid of him. It was obvious from the man’s body language; a fact which the meretricious greetings cards which he received from the diocesan at every anniversary, event and remembrance did nothing to conceal. They came from some faceless girl seated at a computer screen. They were part of the insincere management-speak of a world in which Rose and Harry had never come to be altogether comfortable. They were the episcopal pastoral equivalent of the lady who thanks you for choosing to fly American Airlines and hopes you have a nice day.

What Harry particularly disliked was the requirement (as he had once tactlessly put it) to do Longbridge’s dirty work for him. The Archdeacon had recently been suborned into putting pressure on what was only the fourth parish in the diocese to petition for Extended Oversight under the Act of Synod. Veiled threats had been muttered about the impossibility of finding assistant clergy to work in such parishes, and about the dire consequences of ‘withdrawing from the diocesan family’. Some family, Harry had said to himself.

The Archdeacon of Salpuddle was one who had voted for the ordination of women (indeed he would never have done anything to offend the ladies). Once an opponent, he had changed his mind as the arguments in favour seemed to be getting the upper hand. But he was not a campaigner. He thought that the least one could do on an issue so divisive, was to treat one’s opponents with generosity. One should be ‘gracious’ (the Archdeacon’s favourite word); and graciousness he felt was departing rapidly from the diocese of Salchester, in favour of a hard-headed managerialism in which he wanted no part.

His reverie was interrupted (as so often these days, he reflected) by a telephone call from Sylvia Longbridge. There was trouble in Cove and the Bishop wanted to brief him on how to handle it. Could he spare half an hour after the staff meeting?

* * *

SYLVIA LONGBRIDGE was not a lady who lunched. But today she toyed with her vegi-burger and low calorie coleslaw with even less than her usual enthusiasm. Malcolm was up at Church House, arguing in committee that strict conformity to ‘Common Worship’ should be part of the Clergy Discipline Measure. Sylvia, alone in her office at the Palace, was only too aware that things were not going according to plan.

The Bishop’s plan (and Sylvia agreed with him) was to turn sleepy rural Salchester into a thoroughly modern, efficient, forward-thinking diocese.

Some things had gone swimmingly. The diocese was now an equal opportunities employer. Some might have supposed that such a policy in a diocese with no ethnic minorities to speak of was not a high priority. But Sylvia and Malcolm knew its true worth. Under cover of employing the daughter of an Asian shopkeeper from Balsall Heath as a part time typist they had managed to prefer a number of former colleagues from P-AFSSP, GRIPE and ALAS.

They had managed to get Janet in as Diocesan Director of Continuing Ministerial Development. She and her friend Anne (the assistant DDO in an adjoining diocese) had a charming cottage in Ufton Magna. David (who, sadly, was between partners at the moment) had become Vicar of Salford Forum and been placed in charge of developing sex education materials for young people. The Social Responsibility Officer was (another!) Sylvia, who was also National Treasurer of GRIPE. For the time being they had swept the board.

But, on the deficit side of the account, was the Cove rebellion; the surgical defection of the Dean of Women’s Ministry; and the unrelenting war of attrition waged by Branscombe. It was the behaviour of Prudence (‘Dick’ was to Sylvia an unspeakable name) that she could not forgive. Everywhere she went she sensed suppressed laughter. The worst thing about these so-called traditionalists was that they found very serious, important things comic in a way that never occurred to her. She was not, she told herself deficient in humour. It was just that she was more serious about religion than they were.

Church of England

Diocese of Salchester

Applications are invited for the post of

Director of Pastoral Care and Counselling
and Sexual Integration Mediator.

The successful applicant may well be a member of the Church of England, but should in any case have had wide experience of social work, and will preferably have some contact with one of the faith communities which make up the Diocese of Salchester.

Applications should be addressed to:

The Bishop’s Chaplain
The Revd Sylvia Longbridge

The Palace, Salchester SAL1 11A

The Diocese of Salchester
is an Equal Opportunities Employer

Bridget Trollope is a lay member of the General Synod for the diocese of Barchester