Simon Heans confuses Forward in Hope with a recent bestseller and has been seeing signs and conspiracies everywhere

As I walked down Victoria Street to attend Forward in Hope, I recalled the last occasion I came that way for a meeting at the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster. I remembered the road being deserted on one side and patrolled by armed police.

As I approached the Precinct, I saw a Ford Anglia police car parked across the archway and a number of policemen standing near it, conspicuous by not wearing flak jackets. They looked as if they had come from an episode of Z-Cars. My suspicion that I was looking at a film set was confirmed by a steward: I had stumbled upon the making of the London scenes of the film of The Da Vinci Code.

Team of symbiologists

As I entered Central Hall for Forward in Hope, I had a vision inspired by that book. I saw us as followers of Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu, seekers like them after the Holy Grail, in our case a new province of the Church of England. And the resemblance does not stop with the Quest. I saw that, like them, we are also victims of a secretive organization who would mislead and frustrate us at every turn.

When the plot of Brown’s novel takes the reader to Westminster, the documents hidden by the Priory of Sion have been discovered, and so it was for us arriving there on that last Saturday in January. The archives of the Priory of Guildford had been opened. We had before us its arcane document, the ‘Report.’ But who would break its codes and uncover their meaning? Step forward our team of symbologists, the speakers at Forward in Hope.

We witnessed Bishop Keith and Fr Paul deploying their forensic talents on the Mystery of the Code of Practice. This was exposed as the plot of a power-crazed elite, similar to Opus Dei in Brown’s fiction and known as GRAS, which is determined to take over the Church of England. But by carefully deciphering other encoded messages in the ‘Report,’ they were able to show that the clue to the next stage of our Quest is hidden within it.

The magic words ‘structural solution’ uttered by a Merlin figure, whose oracles only the most advanced symbologists are able to understand, were explained to us. They constitute a cryptic reference, we were assured, to the Holy Grail. We also heard from a very experienced symbologist, Fr Sam, about the history of the Quest; another veteran of the symbological art, Fr David, reminded us why we were still Questing.

Cryptology department

And there was Miss Emma Forward who, like Joan of Arc in earlier days of chivalry, spoke in prophetic key. Her subject was the Future of the Quest. Another militant lady, from the Church Army no less and an experienced member of the department of cryptology (aka the Forward in Faith Council), Sister Anne Williams, expertly deciphered the code called ‘women’s ministry’ and explained its vital role in our Quest.

You may remember that the character in Dan Brown’s novel who really understands the Da Vinci Code is called Sir Leigh Teabing. And so it was appropriate that the master code of the ‘Report,’ known as TEA, should be dissected by the main speaker. Bishop Martyn explained ‘transferred episcopal arrangements’ as symbolic language for the Holy Grail. In his discourse about ‘sacramental assurance,’ he reminded us of what is at the heart of our Quest: its object is indeed the sacred mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ.

The Conference ended with Chief Symbologist, Bishop John, offering a masterly overview of the Quest which he chose to describe with a further symbol. Well, that’s what you would expect from a professional symbologist. He called it the Exodus. I suppose he is right: every Quest involves leaving, going from, as well as arriving, going to. And we haven’t arrived yet. But the Quest can continue because the Code has been cracked.