IT WAS WITH the utmost humility that I rushed home to open the crucial envelope. Bobby was quivering with excitement; but the envelope inside the envelope (Oh, agony of clumsy fumbling with a hand of five thumbs!) read ‘OPEN ONLY WHEN ALONE’.
I dived into the study and devoured it. YES!!! This was the moment!! In a conclusive concurrence of great minds the Holy Spirit, the PM, the Bishop of Winchester and the AbC are all agreed: I am to be the next Bishop of Twyford!
I want to share with you readers of New Directions (who I expect can get a little cynical about these things) what a moving, humbling (and at the same time elevating) moment that was. The way things are, I don’t suppose that any of you will become suffragan bishops, but I want you to know that those of us who are chosen (and we are necessarily few!) know that we are called to service: Servus Servorum Dei, as I think someone once remarked. And we are called to the service of the whole Church, especially of those sad and diminishing minorities which have emerged in recent history. I intend to be the bishop of ALL my people, and I want you to grasp, from the very start, that that is a promise, and not a threat!.
But where, I hear you ask, is Twyford? And what is there about it that demands that a man should don the purple (which I certainly will, and from Gammarelli’s at that!)?
I have to admit that I needed to look it up myself (in a rather dated edition of the AA Illustrated Book of the Road [First Impression 1950], which I think we must have been given as a wedding present). Twyford, it appears, is a village south of Winchester with little that is very obvious to commend it. Benjamin Franklin, apparently, wrote part of his autobiography there, and Alexander Pope received part of his schooling locally. The only people actually to have consummated anything in Twyford seem to have been Mrs Fitzhebert and the Prince of Wales, who were married just down the road in Bambridge House. It is, in consequence, only marginally more interesting than Basingstoke.
But we must not look a gift horse in the mouth. And the point, as the AbC usefully explained to me in the course of the fire-side chat, is not the place but the foot on the ladder. Until he spelt it out I do not think I had quite grasped the importance of ‘The Pool’.
We have not as yet, apparently, achieved complete mastery of the appointments system. There is still, theoretically at least, the possibility of unpleasant surprises. What has to be avoided, if at all possible, is the preferment of someone directly from a parish to a diocesan post. Unless very carefully vetted, the chances are that they will have had quite the wrong experience of the Church, and may well rock the boat.
By emphasising the need for previous episcopal experience in the appointment of a diocesan we have effectively put the whole system into our own hands. We (or rather the bishops – I am rather jumping ahead of myself !) appoint the suffragans. We can make sure that they are our kind of people. My curriculm vitae, the AbC kindly told, me is close to perfection (except, of course, that I have never been a tutor in a theological college). So I will print it again for all you people out there who want to know how the system works:
ARMITAGE-SHANKS, Andrew William Cameron. BSc, FICE.
Lambeth Palace, SE1 7JU
b. 26 April, 1946. educ. Elm Grove School, Belfast; Queen’s University, Belfast; Westcott House; d.76, p. 76. C. St. Margaret of Antioch, E. Dulwich (Southwark) 76-78; SLIM 77-78; Dioc. Media Advisor, St Alban’s, 78-81; Dir. In-service Training, Durham, 81-88; Archd of Glastonbury (Bath and Wells) 88-92; Archd-at-Lambeth 92 –
Married: Robyn (‘Bobby’), 1980. They have two daughters.
Publications: ‘The Archdeacon in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Fiction’ Mowbray, 1972.
And, for those cynics among you who suspect that a CV like that has been carefully constructed, I will prove otherwise by a list of the things I did not include. I have never, for example, written a popular paperback about my own evangelistic achievements in the North; I have never been employed in any capacity for the BBC; I have never presented a single Thought for the Day; nor have I, in the national media, routinely denied the doctrines of the Incarnation and Bodily Resurrection at the appropriate seasons of the Church’s Year. Any or all of those things, as I am sure you will grasp, could have improved my chances of high office immeasurably; but I didn’t try them on!
Add to that the simple and incontrovertible fact that I would be better off financially as a Canon of St. Paul’s than as Bishop of Twyford, and you can see that, in my case, it’s the vocation and not the career! And I am sure that is true of us all.
Bobby, of course, has started house searching. The rules, so far as I can grasp them, are that every new suffragan has to find the house occupied by his predecessor wholly unsuited to the needs of himself and his family. So begins the merry-go round on which it is repeatedly established that no suitable property is available in the required area at a price the Church Commissioners are prepared to pay. Three outright rejections, we have been told, is par for the course; so Bobby is determined not to be outdone.
Frankly, what Bobby wants is none of the Edwardian piles we have been patiently rejecting. She wants something simple by Wates (comfortable and modern, in antique brick, with brown stained woodwork) in the ample back garden of a redundant Vicarage. That way, as she says, considering the size and quality of the house next door, you can guarantee really nice neighbours. We intend to call it something modest and unpretentious, like ‘Bishopsthwaite’.
Once the excitement – and shock! – of the appointment was over I got round to thinking how I might introduce myself to my new area. Bishops are so much more enterprising about that sort of thing than they used to be. (‘Episcope by photo-opportunity’ is what Spin-Dr Beaver calls it). The ‘in’ thing, apparently is to arrive at one’s first service in full fig by some unconventional means of transport.
Considering the location of Twyford, I think barges and motor launches are out; and a topless white Silver Ghost decanting me and Bobby might look dangerously like a wedding. Donkeys have been done before, and in any case, one has to be mindful of W.C.Fields. So the search is still on.
When I have settled in, of course, the progress around the parishes will have to begin in earnest. This again, as the diocesan communications officer pointed out, needs an imaginative approach. He suggested I might drop in by hang-glider; or Bobby and I might do the rounds on a tandem. Considering the danger of the first and the awful song which would inevitably accompany the second, I have settled for the hot air balloon.
Bishoping, as the AbC confided in ‘The Chat’, is all about being prepared to take difficult decisions in demanding circumstances. The People’s Church needs up-front leadership by women and men of courage and character. Bishops these days have to be able to get alongside those at the coal-face of evangelism. ‘They must get stuck-in and not stuck-up’, said the AbC in one of those memorable phrases of his. And speaking personally; I just can’t wait.
Andrew Armitage-Shanks is soon to be Bishop of Twyford. His views are idiosyncratically his own.