Christopher Smith reviews another glorious silly season
And so we have landed back in September after our August hiatus, and after a silly season which has lived up to all expectations. Upon what might you want my considered opinion this month? The 55% grade boundary for an A at ‘A’ level maths? Or a GCSE story headlined ‘Pupils triggered by calorie-counting question in maths test’? There’s a Mars Bar in it for the first correct answer to arrive in my inbox, showing your working in ounces:
There are 84 calories in 100g of banana. There are 87 calories in 100g of yogurt. Priti has 60g of banana and 150g of yogurt for breakfast. Work out the total number of calories in this breakfast.
Oh, but Mars Bars are now 20% smaller than they used to be, to satisfy the sugar police. 20% less Mars Bar means 20% less sugar, you see… but the price didn’t go down, did it?
How about the bloke who was sacked by Asda for putting a clip from a Billy Connolly skit on his Facebook page? Mr Connolly was rude about the Christian faith in the sketch, but, perhaps more significantly, he was also rude about Islamic suicide bombers. The employee apologised for his blasphemy, but that wasn’t good enough, although it was noted that Asda cheerfully continued to sell Billy Connolly DVDs. The company, having garnered adverse publicity in every national newspaper, reinstated him in the end; I think I’d have been tempted to tell them to get knotted.
Bishops and cathedrals haven’t failed to play their part in the silly season, of course. ‘Archbishop of Canterbury tweets Lord’s Prayer in emoji’, I am reliably informed by the ITV news website, which also kindly tells me that ‘The Lord’s Prayer is key to the Church of England and Christianity’, apparently not regarding the former as a subset of the latter. I have discovered that if you hover over each emoji, a label pops up to tell you what it signifies. So the Lord’s Prayer now begins, ‘Our [Family, man, girl, boy], who art in [Cloud], [Smiling face with halo] be thy name’. Most interesting theologically, I thought, was ‘forgive us our [Pensive face]’, but perhaps I’m overanalysing. Still, if Francis can change the Padre Nostro in Italian, maybe Justin can do the same for the English version. Incidentally, a friend has pointed out to me that Mathias Prideaux, a Royalist solider and son of the last bishop of Worcester before the Interregnum, arranged bishops into seven categories, ranging from ‘Good Bishops’ and ‘Tolerable Archbishops’ to ‘Devouring Abaddons’ and ‘Incurable Babylonians’. I can’t tell you in a family publication what comes in between, but it would be an amusing parlour game to rank the current contingent over the port one evening.
Cathedral deans have also managed to cover themselves in glory this summer, all in a desperate attempt to drag people across the threshold of their buildings. Did you manage a go on the helter-skelter in Norwich Cathedral? They didn’t open it to the public on Sunday mornings for some reason, but on Sunday the 18th they sent the suffragan bishop to preach from it. He missed a trick by speaking from half way down the slide (in cope and mitre, of course); perhaps if he’d preached three days earlier, he’d have been taken to the top without having to climb the steps. ‘God is a tourist attraction’, he said. ‘God wants to be attractive to us.’ So now God is as emotionally needy as the rest of the western world. Well done God, and well done J.A.T. Robinson. God is truly made in the image of man.
Then there’s been a pop festival in Bradford Cathedral, a prosecco festival in Peterborough Cathedral, and a gin festival in Manchester Cathedral. That last one had an ‘award-winning resident DJ’, according to the cathedral’s website – they’ve presumably sacked the organist – and it’s being repeated in mid-September, at a venue in Temperance Street, would you believe? Then there’s a Night at the Movies at Ely, Christmas trees in Chester, and the moon in Lichfield.
Some cathedrals have been having dreary old music festivals and flower festivals, but we can bypass them, because the must-visit attraction of the summer has been golf in the nave of Rochester Cathedral which, the BBC tells me, ‘is home to a nine-hole course each including a model of a different type of bridge. The cathedral says it hopes visitors will learn about faith, and building both emotional and physical bridges.’ There you are: not only is it fun, it’s also educational, and it has doubled their visitor numbers this summer. ‘Rev Rachel Phillips, Canon for mission and growth at Rochester Cathedral, said, “We hope that, while playing adventure golf, visitors will reflect on the bridges that need to be built in their own lives and in our world today.” One boy who played on the course said, “I think it’s quite a good place [for] non-religious people to come in to experience what it’s all about”.’
What is it all about, then? We find ourselves in a terrible and, I might suggest, ungodly, crisis of confidence. If we just want people through the great west doors, then retail outlets are the way to go. Or maybe car parking. But if we want people to say their prayers, if we want people to become members of the Body of Christ, then a place of worship has to be a place where people can worship, not be shoved into a side chapel while the retail opportunities take up the nave. It’s about the setting aside of sacred space, which is what our forefathers were doing when they build our cathedrals and churches and chapels. We don’t need to be teaching our children to play crazy golf in the nave: we need to be teaching them to pray.