with APRIL HEAVISIDES
JUDGING FROM my post bag after last month’s Millennium Experience, I ought to be devoting the whole of this piece to a learned paper on ‘The Bishop as Sex Object’ or something of the sort!! My goodness me how the hackles rose!!! And just because I have that gorgeous episco-hunk Nigel McCulloch stuck to my fridge-freezer.
But chaqu’une a son gout, say I. Why shouldn’t a bishop be fanciable? After all, they’re only men!!
All you dyed-in-the-woad traditionalists out there thought it was in bad taste. And half you right-on sisters thought I was letting the side down. But let’s face it – bishops have a sex life as well!!! And we Anglicans have quite a dishy bench, when you begin to look at them. No wonder the Methodists are so keen to ‘take them into their system’.
There’s Richard Harries (getting on, I admit, but still a smooth charmer – a sort of male Joan Bakewell, I would say: ‘The Thinking Woman’s Crumpet’). And among the younger ones there’s James Jones, the g-string bishop, (a sort of bearded Pierce Brosnan – +007, licensed to charismatise!), and Lindsay Urwin (with that lovely, Fox Mulder boy-next-door pout and the searing seriousness behind the eyes).
Sisters! The truth is out there! The word seems to have gotten around that the episcopal bench is all Alan Partridge and no Jeremy Paxman; but we know better. This is my Millennium challenge to all you WATCHers: let us know which bishop you would most like to have a one-to-me with (and let him know, too!!!).
Meanwhile, here in Charlton, Joe and I are still on the Millennium roller-coaster. Will he? Won’t he? I have to say it would really, really help if the boss could make up his mind whether he’s going to the party or not.
Personally I don’t think he has an option: if he is invited, he has to go! I mean, as Joe said (but, then, she is a Roman Catholic!!), it isn’t as though a threat from George and Eileen not to turn up at a party would be likely to induce spontaneous gloom in anybody.
On the other hand, Mick (the bloke behind the bar at our South London local, ‘The Firkin Dome’) put the issue in perspective for us all when he said : ‘If you ask me, the best thing to do at a New Year’s Eve party where the star turn is some old geezer in a purple frock lighting a fr*gg*ng candle is to leg it, mate!’ Graphic, I admit; but a view which I suspect many may share
Frankly Mitsubishi-Sogo (the Maharishi Johdpur Harare’s merchant bankers) and the board of Cadbury-Schweppes are beginning to ask embarrassing questions about whether the CofE is really, really behind this Millennium Experience Chaplaincy at all. It is a real crisis for Joe and me: we have secured the funding, but have we got the support? Our sponsors are beginning to question the professionalism of the whole operation; and I mean not just the chaplaincy, but the whole Church of England.
And I have to say that the ‘Time of Our Lives’ ad. in The Church Times and The Church of England Newspaper has not helped our credibility: all those lower case letters and all that gushing enthusiasm (‘time to come in a gang with your mates’!!!) expended on the ungrounded assumption that 16-25 year olds read the Church papers!
And then there is the sheer sexism of it all: half a page of events and only two women mentioned. (One of those is bringing her husband along, and the other is Eileen!) A weekend in London with thirty bishops and, worse still, forty-three diocesan youth advisers, sounds like hell to me; but perhaps the young have changed. I anticipate disaster; I hope for all our sakes I am wrong.
The point is that all this reflects on our efforts here to make the Millennium Experience Chaplaincy the launch pad for a new and vibrant approach to the unchurched. The opportunities are so great that it would be a tragedy to miss any of them.
Certainly Brigitta’s parish focus groups, which have been rewriting ‘Alpha’, are proving an enormous help. (We are calling the new course ‘Femina’, by the way, if Sandy Millar can be persuaded to keep his solicitors in check!) The course is being tailored (if that is not too masculinist a term!) to the needs of women.
It will begin with an in-depth consideration of the feminine face of God. And since the Bible is just a pastiche of male prejudices in this area, we will be looking to other ancient religions to fill out the story.
Then we will have a module on ‘Women in the Early Church’. Responses from the focus groups have shown that we will need to concentrate here on the Apostle Junia (about whom so much is now being discovered!) and ditch boring old Priscilla. (Like George and Eileen, Priscilla and Aquilla seem to come as a package deal – and that is a real turn-off for today’s independent woman!!) Finally we will deal with Christianity as a male tool in the oppression of women.
All this will be a prelude to our ‘Re-imaging’ workshops. I am in charge of this bit and I am calling it ‘DIY for Women’. The aim will be to re-imagine a religion without men, one created by and for women. What would it be like? What needs and aspirations would it exist to fulfil?
In the face of the new Millennium, these, I believe, are the questions we need to be asking ourselves.
Some of you, I am sure, will be wondering what the men in our congregation make of all this. To tell the truth there are only six or seven of them; but they are very enthusiastic. They now have a vision of the institutional sexism which is at the heart of Christianity, and they are determined to root it out! One of them, a retired hospital porter called Sid, said something really beautiful the other day. ‘Thank you, Rector, ‘ he told Brigitta, ‘without your help I don’t suppose I would ever have been able to recognize the rapist in myself.’
It is moments like that which make it all seem worthwhile. And that is why I want our Millennium Liturgy to take up and express all these themes and questionings. Joe and I have hired the London Arena (not far from the Dome itself). In the midst of all the uncertainty about CofE involvement across the river, we are making a bold alternative statement of our own!
There will be dance and mime, music and silence, incense and dry ice, a rock band and a symphony orchestra, the Dagenham Girl Pipers and the entire cast of ‘Pope Joan’! There will be readings from Hildegard and Julian and Margery Kempe, from Simone de Beauvoir and Mary Daly.
You may call it syncretism; but we are calling it ‘The Twelve O’clock Service’. Believe me, candles are only for the boys! See you there!
April Heavisides is Archbishops’ Chaplain to the Millennium Experience, a job which she shares with Sr Immaculata, ISRL. She is a Canon of Southwark.