Seated in the Cathedral and Abbey Church of St Alban on Saturday, 15 September, waiting for Bishop Edwin Barnes’ great celebration to begin, my attention was gripped at about 10.55am by a small – a very small – procession. Led by the inevitable verger, it comprised just three people. And the one who particularly caught my attention was the Right Reverend Richard Llewellyn, the Bishop at Lambeth – the Archbishop’s Head of Staff at Lambeth Palace. And I was forcefully reminded of the time another dignitary attended a service at a Church dedicated to Britain’s Proto-Martyr, Alban.
William Butterfield’s new church of St Alban the Martyr, Holborn was, from its consecration in 1863, a hotbed of ritualism! The saintly first vicar, Alexander Heriot Mackonochie, assisted by his six curates, including the great Fr Stanton, made it his task to reach out to the poor of his parish and to ensure that, when they responded by coming to church, what they encountered was nothing less than a glimpse of heaven. Worship in the beauty of holiness at St Alban’s, Holborn was, for its day, terribly ‘advanced’ and soon enough the Sunday High Mass came to the attention of the Church Association – a body dedicated to rooting out Romanist extravagance in the Established Church. A row ensued and the Bishop of London decided to take an interest. He asked the Dean of Westminster, Arthur Stanley, to attend the High Mass one Sunday in 1866. The Bishop asked the Dean what he had seen, and his answer went down in history: ‘I saw three men in green, and you will find it difficult to put them down.’
And so, 135 years later, I dreamt of a meeting of the House of Bishops. The Archbishop of Canterbury asks his Head of Staff the same question. He knows the answer already, of course, but he wants his brothers on the bench to hear it. ‘What did you see in St Albans that day, Richard?’ And Bishop Llewellyn replies: ‘I saw a hundred men in red, and you will find it difficult to put them down.’
Difficult? No. Thanks to the ministry of Bishop Edwin – and, of course, other bishops of his ilk – we can say, with confidence, that they will find it impossible to put us down. And the sooner they get that message, the better it will be for all concerned!