A clerical detective story by PDJ Aymes
‘IT’S all right for some, ’ said Ben as he grabbed another slice of pepperoni pizza and opened the trendily retro refrigerator with his left foot. ‘The steaming ulu one minute and downtown in the Big Apple the next. Want a Pils?’
Tom Whelan declined the offer. He was awaiting the arrival of his boss, Commander Eve Melhuilish. He did not, if truth were told, care much for her flat mate. Twickenham and Covent Garden were neither of them institutions which generated in Whelan a sense of ease. He was relieved when Melhuilish staggered through the door laden with groceries and breathless from the stairs.
‘We ’ve not got long, Whelan, ’ she said, as soon as the Sainsbury ’s bags were safely on the kitchen table. ‘You have to pin down the Presiding Bishop before Guildenthal gets spinning. I am beginning to think that there is more to our obliging friend Frazer than meets the eye. Damn, I ’ve forgotten the balsamic vinegar!’
Whelan listened intently as the Commander detailed the investigation he was to conduct in a city he had never visited ‘I want everything you can get on Dauzenburg, the presiding bishop ’, she concluded Even by ecclesiastical standards he ’s a smooth customer. I want to know everything from his political opinions to the size of his socks. These people are our prime suspects. ’
Martin F Dauzenburg III, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church was not a cradle Anglican.
The son of a Lutheran minister from Pennsylvania and the well-connected daughter of a Democratic Senator from Vermont, he had embraced Episcopalianism as the natural corollary to his mother ’s social pretensions. And in reaction to the simplicity of the religion of his forebears he had developed an enthusiasm for ritualistic excess.
Trained at Nashotah House, Dauzenburg served in parishes up and down the biretta belt until his election (on the eleventh ballot)as Bishop of Milwaukee. Happily coinciding with this upward mobility, a modest inheritance from his mother allowed him to live in the manner to which he thought a prelate should be accustomed. He acquired, simultaneously, a wife, a coastal property just outside Kennebunkport and the largest mitre this side of the Council of Trent.
But theological changes were afoot in the Episcopal Church and Martin Dauzenburg was a man who liked a forefront.
Whilst very careful never actually to deny anything outright, he adopted a posture of elegant doctrinal doubt and impassioned moral certainty. It served him well. Martin was, above all, a phrasemaker. ‘Waging reconciliation ’;‘gracious conversation ’;‘open inclusion ’;‘making the future present ’; ‘empowering our hopes ’.
It was Dauzenburg ’s phrases which came to resonate throughout the Episcopal Church. No one, of course, knew precisely what any of them meant;but stylish imprecision is what people have come to expect of bishops, and Martin ’s was without doubt a triumph of style over substance. It came, then, as no surprise, that before long he was appointed Presiding Bishop.
The job might have been made for him; and he brought to it an almost presidential panache. Relieved of the messy day-to-day involvement with a diocese (which he had never really enjoyed)he moved with graceful ease from meeting to meeting and from neologism to neologism. It was, he quipped, the sort of job that every bishop wanted but which only one bishop could have.
From his tastefully decorated Manhattan penthouse Martin looked out with satisfaction across the Episcopal Church, across its ample pension funds, its gilt-edged investments and its impressive real estate The Church of which he was the undisputed leader and head might be declining numerically, but it had an influence quite disproportionate to its membership. It was, as he liked to call it, the ‘National Church ’. Better even than an Established Church, it was the Church of the Establishment.
To an ex-Methodist from Ruislip the Presiding Bishop was a figure both exotic and incomprehensible.
Tom Whelan arrived in New York on a mild sunny Saturday at the end of May and checked into the down-at heel anonymity of the Pennsylvania Hotel. His appointment with Martin F Dauzenburg III was set for 10. 30pm on the following Monday. He had two days to familiarize himself with the Episcopal Church.
His first stop was the Cathedral of St John the Divine. ‘The largest gothic cathedral in the world ’. Whelan ’s was the sort of guide book which tells you the dimensions of everything and the history of nothing But that was curiously apt – for here was cavernous vastness and only apparent age Just like a real cathedral, St John the Divine looked as if all the periods of Western architecture except the present had made their contributions. Yet the total effect was not of organic growth and sequential development, but of one gigantic jumble sale. Like the mansion of a billionaire who had gone out to buy himself some culture, it was packed with unrelated artefacts and religious bibelots. How his mother would have ached to dust them!
The cathedral bookshop (always a barometer of religious vitality)was full of leather bookmarks, hexagonal jars of very expensive jam, and tomes on any every imaginable ‘spirituality ’ except the Christian religion. Those, and the tank of newts in the ‘Creation Chapel ’, were all that left a lasting impression.
St Thomas ’, Fifth Avenue was a very different kettle of fish. Tom slid in passed the sidesmen in pin-striped trousers and matching red ribbons, towards the end of the morning service. The stained-glass gloom was filled with the stench of pious opulence and the proficient choir sang in accents clearly on loan from the Home Counties. Only a tramp in prayer before the incongruous statue of Our Lady of Fifth Avenue redeemed the place from total irrelevance. Whelan was not one given to deep theological reflection, but even he wondered why the worship of the Almighty in the heart of Manhattan required the perpendicular gothic of the late fourteenth century, the prose style of the early Tudors and the music of Ralph Vaughan Williams. He did not stay to ask