A clerical detective story by PDJ Aymes
The funeral of Dr Hugh Tofts, the 103rd Archbishop of Canterbury, was, as all who attended it freely admitted, a memorable event.
The body – which had lain in state overnight in the Great Hall of Lambeth Palace (relays of Archdeacons taking their hourly vigils at the four corners of the catafalque) – was drawn on a specially commissioned funeral carriage from Lambeth to St Paul’s by forty-four recently ordained deacons (male and female) representing the dioceses of the Church of England.
To the hushed tones of David Dimbleby the serried ranks of the primates of the Communion, in black chimeres and Canterbury caps, followed it along the Strand. And, in a particularly moving gesture, as the coffin passed Dean’s Court on the approaches to St Paul’s, it was met by a deputation of lawyers from Winckworth Pemberton & Slothe, and Lee, Bolton Lee & Smoothe, who ceremonially waived their fees.
The coffin, borne now by the few diocesan bishops young enough for the task, entered the great Cathedral to the haunting melody ‘Eleanor Rigby’, performed by Sir Paul McCartney, with a backing group of Children of the Chapels Royal (new words specially written by Canon Michael Saward).
The Bishop of Salisbury and a select committee of expert liturgists had burned the midnight oil to come up with a service that was appropriate to such a national, televised occasion. It could not, they thought, be allowed to alienate by overt religiosity. It must unite the nation in a moment of common grief. Above all it must be responsive to the majority of the English people, who had no idea what an Archbishop of Canterbury was and who had never heard of the Church of England.
It should have ‘tone’, said ‘Bubbles’ definitively. (He was himself all in favour of a Cranmerian touch, here and there.) ‘It should be accessible,’ said a young man who had taught on a Regional Clergy Training Scheme. ‘It must speak to the Young, ‘said an Officer for Youth Evangelism. ‘It must seek to make women visible and reverse the institutional repression which we suffer in the Church’, said a spokesperson for WATCH. ‘Gay people demand a place as of right in the funeral of an Archbishop who has persecuted us’, said the president of the Gay and Lesbian Christian Movement. ‘We need a presenter who can hold the show together,’ said someone who had done a Media Training Course.
On a media friendly presenter they all agreed. But, alas, the death of Sir Harry Secombe and the advertising career of Thora Hird had thrown the Church of England back on its own resources. And sadly they had found that they could not agree on James Jones.
The hymn sandwich that resulted, whilst it uplifted no one, offended no one. Lessons were read by the Chief Rabbi, the Chairperson of the Methodist Conference and the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. The highlight of the service was Luciano Pavaroti’s emotive rendering of ‘Che gelinda manina’ – a favourite of the late Archbishop. (‘The words’, said the Daily Mail’s theatre critic, ‘could not better have suited the occasion.’)
To the strains of ‘Will ye no come back agin’, the coffin was piped from the Cathedral by the Most Revd Hamish McTaggart, the Archbishop designate, White Wizard of Eigg and Master of the Pipes of Ossian.
* * *
As the mortal remains of the successor of St Augustine were taken by barge to some unspecified suburban crematorium, the panoply of Primates made its way to Goldsmith’s Hall, where under that opulently gilded plasterwork, a finger buffet had been prepared.
Commander Melhuilish was in surveillance mode at this strange gathering. She had always found the nomenclature slightly comic; but seeing them en masse she understood why they were called Primates. Sociable as Barbary apes and territorial as alley cats, they circled each other nervously, grouped and regrouped, and prepared for the power struggle ahead.
Only three figures appeared to rise above the obvious partisanship. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Archbishop of Capetown and McTaggart himself. It was enough.
The Most Revd Martin F Dauzenberg had made a public statement before the funeral about the meeting of the Primates. ‘It is humbling’, he said, ‘to meet with men who have shared the suffering and deprivation of God’s poor. How little we know of this in the West! As we move forward together to a new and deeper place, it is the example of that suffering and that courage which upholds and sustains us on our journey into new Truth.’
He now passed from group to group – his slender figure, more aesthetic than ascetic, easily identifiable among the well-upholstered forms of his African brothers – sharing their deprivation and affirming their courage. He talked to them about the rich diversity of believing which goes to make up modern Anglicanism. They talked with one another about the bargain basement at Wippells. It was not, observed Whelan, who was an expert in body language, exactly a meeting of minds.
Archbishop Ngdolo Ndungawe worked the room with greater circumspection. Trained at Westcott House and General Theological Seminary he knew that his fellow Africans regarded him with suspicion – ‘the South African coconut’, as one Primate described him: rough and brown on the outside, white and emollient at the centre.
Hamish McTaggart, alone of the three, was completely at home in this gathering. He was by turns humble, witty, learned and holy. Small groups warmed to his presence and he was a good listener. The Prime Minster radiated approval and the press (for despite his left-wing politics, in attitudes and mores McTaggart was one of their own) simpered after him for comment on this or that. Indeed, in a single day Hamish astounded them with erudite opinions on everything from McDonald’s to the Sustainable Resources Summit. Between whiles he assured concerned Primates that his own personal opinions would in no way affect the discharge of his new office.
Melhuilish wondered if anyone believed him, and remembered that McTaggart himself had once complained of the difficulty that others invariably came away from meetings supposing he had agreed with them more heartily than he had. The Commander knew that she must interview the new Archbishop immediately. She was now close to certainty in the matter of the theft of the Quadrilateral. If all went well it would be possible to present the solution of the mystery to all thirty-eight Primates before they left London and went their decidedly separate ways.
‘So you’re going to gather them all in the drawing room and tell them it was Colonel Mustard in the Library,’ said Ben facetiously, as he drifted off to sleep.
‘You could say that,’ said Eve, as she retrieved her share of the duvet and turned to put out the light.