A new General Synod of the Church of England met for the first time in November. It has become a remarkably forgettable institution. Doubtless much work and effort goes into its organization and the mechanics of its meetings by admirable staff members but the costs of this talking shop measured by its outcomes is not worth it. The price is too high if the result is tedious clichés echoing through the corridors of Church House, signifying nothing.
It is not the democratisation of the CofE that it purports to be but additional bureaucracy that leads nowhere but oblivion; not a debating chamber but a speech-delivering forum. You have to go back some time to find significant departure.
In the debate that resulted in the ordination of women, the then Bishop of Guildford opined in its favour that it was demanded and required by the tradition. This novel assertion roused the then Bishop of Newcastle, Alex Graham (who died last year), to abandon his prepared speech and in a few minutes of perfectly lucid, perfectly-formed extempore argument demolish Bishop Adie’s tendentious claim. Sadly, Bishop Graham did not win the day and what followed led to the Synod we see today.
The second meeting of this new Synod is co-terminus with this issue. Bloviated hot air may well warm the Westminster Village, even unto Lambeth, but for the rest of us it may send a shudder down the spine.
The final obsequies for that much loved of priests Fr Bill Scott took place at S. Mary’s Bourne Street on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception last December. A stained glass window of Our Lady that had been in the south porch, once the principal entrance to the church but displaced by the north extension and, consequently, rarely seen, was set in the window there looking down on the Seven Sorrows altar.
The Bishop of Chichester presided in golden splendour arrayed, and wearing a mitre only slightly taller than himself. Fr Graeme Rowlands, in his capacity as Chaplain-General of the Society of Mary, which had made a contribution to the installation, preached an admirably succinct sermon on the time when God wore gloves. It repays hearing and can be found on St Mary’s website.
Stained glass windows have been on my mind. The death of Patrick Reyntiens in autumn last year coincided with the completion a scheme to fill four plain-glass windows with stained glass in the parish church of my leafy suburb. Not newly commissioned but with glass from redundant or demolished churches. The existing east and west windows have merit but those in the south aisle are heavily and gloomily Victorian. The new windows are better: one has heraldic devices attributed to Pugin, another is from the fine firm of Clayton and Bell. The have come through the good offices of the Worshipful Company of Glaziers. First mentioned in 1328, it has nearly 700 years of history. Part of its present activities is to assist churches in the restoration of medieval stained glass or later glass that merits preservation. The Company established the London Stained Glass Repository to maintain glass rescued from modern day puritan iconoclasts as churches close.
Patrick Reyntiens, as one of his obituarists noted, ‘occupied a singular position in the history of British stained glass’. He was part of a post-war renaissance in the art and, in collaboration with John Piper, created some of the finest of modern stained glass. Perhaps Coventry Cathedral and its Baptistry is the most celebrated outcome of their work. It is one of the few redeeming features of Sir Basil Spence’s building, along with the Epstein St Michael. Other notable work can be seen in Eton College Chapel, the Hall of Christ Church, Oxford and, most notably in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool, and at Ampleforth, where he had been educated and for whom he created, with his son John, a series of thirty-five windows for the Abbey Church. A devout Catholic, with a firm belief in angels, he leaves a shining legacy.
The Today programme continues to annoy. The overly-chatty Amol Rajan thanked Sir Andrew Pollard for the AstraZeneca vaccine ‘on behalf of the whole nation’. Clearly Today presenters think highly of themselves but, even by their standards, this was an astonishing arrogance. It is difficult to avoid Mr Rajan on the wireless or the television screen. His ‘documentary’ The Princes and the Press tells you all you need to know about his style and the degree of irritation that he engenders. Many of his more distinguished, accomplished predecessors had their foibles and capacity to irritate but none of them would have had the effrontery. O tempora, o mores.
Wren’s masterpiece it may well be, and much as a building it can be admired, St Paul’s Cathedral has always left me cold and unmoved. Passing a few weeks ago en route to a convivial lunch, I remembered that there was once upon a time when an embittered clergyman remarked on ‘that empty mausoleum on Ludgate Hill wherein the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has never been offered’. Perhaps that is why the Byzantine splendour of Westminster Cathedral has the exact and opposite effect on me than the edifice of EC4.