John Hunwicke is worried by the implications of the new style of
over-inventive liturgy

Canon Penny Driver from Ripon Diocese was recently collated as Archdeacon of Exeter in that city’s cathedral, and things were – in accordance with custom in England’s Most Catholic Diocese – done both decently and elegantly. There was no rabid feminism: God the Father was allowed to be the Father and granted masculine pronouns (real feminists never say, for example, ‘The earth and its people are his,’ they say ‘…God’s’). But the zeitgeist did get her toe in the door.

‘God made the world,’ the liturgy declared, ‘made it and mothered it, shaped it and fathered it.’ This was followed by lists of what the mothering-and-fathering creator has created; they tended to be things pretty, things cuddly and things vulnerable. My anxiety concerned the unkind omissions: what about the majesty of the tsunamis, volcanoes and earthquakes that he/she created? What about the wonderful and beautiful complexities of the aids virus? Why didn’t they get a look-in? Why only the Laura-Ashley-and-delicate-pastel-shades view of the ‘drama of creation’?

Catchy refrains

Texts for the ‘drama of the incarnation’ rang bells in my memory. Did you ever sit with your children watching telly and hearing the catchy refrain ‘Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen’? That ditty has now become a paradigm for creative prayer: Christ was described at this cathedral service as ‘loved by women, feared by men.’ Note the stylish adaptation of those sophisticated words, ‘Robin Hood…loved by the good, feared by the bad’!

Isn’t it interesting that there is apparently a type of woman who is incapable of feeling strong and confident in her womanhood unless she can contrive to make men feel guilty and weak in their manhood? I went back to the gospels and failed to discover the evidence for the exclusive male gender of those who shouted, ‘Crucify him.’ Incidentally, should this liturgical text not have added ‘crucified by democratic acclamation (with a two-thirds majority in each of the three houses)’? And should we now be crafting new liturgical texts for such feasts as that of St John the Baptist – ‘respected by men, hated by adulteresses’?

Whom to bless?

The final episcopal blessing (Roman formula, of course: that’s how we are down Exeter way) was preceded by versicles about ‘those who work for change’ and ‘those who do new things.’ These people are, the texts implied, ipso facto pretty well as good as even Robin Hood himself. Really? What about Hitler? Didn’t the horrid little man do all he could to work for change?

Is it really nit-picking to point out that what matters is whether the ‘change’ and the ‘new things’ are in themselves in accordance with God’s will? I could not help wondering if all this was a coded reference to the hierarchical elevation of women. In themselves, such words could perfectly well have applied to those who are working for a new province. But I somehow don’t think that is what the Venerable Penny – or whoever composed the rite – had in mind.