‘Thurifer’ enjoys the season, laments the young, and proposes a return to active ministry
Autumn is my favourite season. In my garden the leaves on the trees have turned from dull green to flaming orange or bronze; while underfoot the fallen leaves are crisp, and crunch satisfyingly. A house near me has a Virginia Creeper that has turned the most beautiful red, like the richest silk. I like the misty mornings that turn to bright and clear skies. I even like the days of wind and rain. An afternoon walk in the countryside in autumn rain, followed by tea and toast smeared with Patum Peperium back in a warm house is bliss.
The fall of the year and its notes of melancholy shot through with light and warm colours cannot be beaten. Not all of autumn – or any season – can be entirely satisfying. Recently, on public transport, I have noticed the intrusive, steely, piercing corncrake voices of (mainly and sadly) the young. And the language! Expletives are employed as verbal punctuation. Perhaps even worse, is the incomprehensibility. How they understand one another baffles me. I heard this: ‘So, like, you know, like, he, sort of, like, kinda said, like, well, like, no’. Are we returning to the communication of grunts and groans? No doubt there is a liturgy currently being drafted to catch the trend.
On a brighter note, I saw a marvellous film: ‘Palio’, directed by Cosmia Spender, grand-daughter of the poet Stephen Spender. It captures vividly the drama of the Sienese horse race, its speed and danger, as well as the rivalries and machinations of the contrada, (districts) behind the scenes – and some not so behind-the-scenes. Immediately before the start, jockeys negotiate and bargain and offer inducements to gain advantage.
It evoked memories of my only visit to Siena some twenty years ago. It was the Sunday before the second running of the race (there is a race in July and the second on the day after the Assumption). We saw the Campo with the track set out, and one of the contrada processions with flags being twirled and flung about with skilful abandon. We heard Mass in the Cathedral. It is there that the winner of the August running is carried in triumph, and the film shows the scenes of wild cheering in a packed church. The film does not seem to have a wide distribution, and there was only one showing in a trendy cinema near me. If you can, do seek it out.
In the early hours of one morning – in the midst of a sleepless night – rather than count sheep, I composed an application for entry into the Talent Pool. I pointed out that I had been retired for some years but would be prepared to emerge if I could be of service. I made clear that the episcopal stipend and the episcopal pension would not be barriers to my acceptance, that I would reluctantly accept membership of the House of Lords, and would, with much hand-wringing, pocket the daily allowance. Presumably I could have a grace-and-favour flat in town, as I would be assiduous in attendance; but I would occasionally visit my diocese to see how things were going.
My Mission Strategy would be to close down as many churches as possible or, if absolutely necessary, amalgamate parishes into sustainable units of mission. I would increase the numbers of sector ministers and diocesan apparatchiks (not a term of abuse in my dictionary) to facilitate the work of parish priests. This may mean that parish priests will spend most of their time writing reports and answering questionnaires from their dozen-or-so line managers, but that would be compensated (not financially) by introducing zero-hours contracts for parish workers. I wait to hear.
Punditry and prophecy
Autumn is the time for Party Political Conferences. The Conservatives tried – but did not entirely manage – to avoid giving the impression of ‘We are the masters now.’ The Liberal Democrats were crying in the wilderness, where their rhetoric seemed to have taken leave of the reality of their position. Gladstone, Rosebery, Campbell-Bannerman, Asquith, Lloyd George. Clegg and Farron are 4th Division rather than Premier League. Mr Cameron. Meanwhile, cannot shake off his sense of entitlement. His seriousness of purpose was derailed by ‘revelations’, which were nothing if not amusing.
Labour elected Jeremy Corbyn. For some he is a breath of fresh air; for others, with longer memories, a stale reminder of a discredited past. Inveterate dissent (‘strong message here’) is rarely a recipe for the complexities of government. A minister who has been dismissed in a re-shuffle asked Prime Minister Clement Attlee why he had been sacked. ‘Not up to the job’, was the reply. Judged by his first weeks in office, when ineptitude and incompetence soon outran inexperience, that might be the verdict on Mr Corbyn sooner rather than later.
As I write the wind is stirring the trees, and the leaves continue to fall. Time for a stroll. ND