The Queen’s absence from St Mary Magdalene, Sandringham, on Christmas Day and the following Sunday gave many pause for thought. Both she and the Duke of Edinburgh are now in their nineties, and are beginning to scale back their public duties. Although they both still seem to enjoy sprightly health, it can hardly now be taken for granted. Meanwhile, Pope Benedict – a few months short of his own ninetieth birthday – is looking increasingly frail, and walking with a frame. The trademark twinkle in his eyes, however, is undimmed. Longevity seems to be the hallmark of leadership in some quarters, at least.
Oswald Clark was nearly 100 when he died in December, a few days before Christmas. A colossus of the Catholic Movement, he was a prime example of an informed and empowered layman who fought for Catholic truth in the heat of the battles that preceded the vote on women’s ordination in 1992. His position on the issues surrounding relations with the Methodist Church will bear revisiting as the Church of England once more approaches the possibility of rapprochement. Those still with us who remember him at the height of his powers recall his name with reverence and respect; and his obituary appears on page 9. Jesu mercy, Mary pray.
Candlemass marked the end of a different era. Although he does not officially retire until Shrove Tuesday, the Right Reverend and Right Honourable Richard, by Divine Permission Lord Bishop of London, Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order, Commander of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, Member of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council, Prelate of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Dean of the Chapels Royal, Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, and the Church of England’s answer to Brian Blessed, took his leave of the diocese that he has led since 1995. The See giveth up its head.
London, once that most Catholic of dioceses, is now an Evangelical stronghold: a position consolidated over the last twenty years by the financial viability of large churches preaching a gospel of commitment which, for reasons we may not always share or understand, resonates with many. To any diocese seeking to balance the books, that is an attractive model. Meanwhile – away from the glamour of fully-paid quotas and muscular young curates with perfect teeth and monosyllabic names – our priests plough on, bringing the sacraments in all their fullness to the broken, the unlovely, and the poor.
The rumour-mill has been churning away since long before Bishop Chartres announced his retirement. After such a forceful personality at the helm for two decades the appointment must surely go either to an equally dynamic character, or to a safe pair of hands willing to smile and nod, and not rock the boat. Anyone who hasn’t watched the spoof video based on Downfall that appeared when the See of Canterbury was last vacant – “Lord Luce Reacts” – should seek it out on YouTube immediately.
By the way, Bishop Chartres is remaining Dean of the Chapel Royal pro tem. Ostensibly this is a matter of convenience; but it should also remind us that the office has only been tied to the See of London since 1748, and is at the Queen’s pleasure. It could just as easily be given to another, should Her Majesty not care for her own appointment.
There has, of course, been speculation that the next Bishop of London might be a woman. There has also been speculation as to whether the next Bishop of London might be drawn from the BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) community, in an effort to increase the diversity of the Church of England’s senior leadership. That there are very many BAME members of the CofE, and very few BAME archdeacons and bishops, cannot be denied.
But church leadership is not confined to archdeacons and bishops, and nor does it reside exclusively in those who have been called to Holy Orders. Such a mentality smacks of clericalism, and there is frequently too much of it about. As it happens, there are plenty of BAME leaders in our ranks. They serve in all sorts of capacities: as churchwardens, servers, musicians, sidespeople, and PCC members, to name but a few. They feed the hungry, visit the sick, count the collection, and carry the Blessed Sacrament to those unable to come to mass. One of them even edits a magazine.
If we want the Church of England hierarchy to represent the make-up of its membership, then all well and good: let’s have more BAME archdeacons and bishops. But while we’re at it, let’s also have some more traditionalist Catholics – especially in dioceses that are already densely populated with parishes of that persuasion. We could make a start with London.