Martin Sargeant, who defrauded the Diocese of London of £5.2m whilst drawing a not insignificant £86,000 salary and taking extensive time off for ‘cancer treatment’, was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on 19 December to five years in prison. Particularly disappointing was that he had a history of stealing from former employers in the 1990s and was handed a previous sentence in 1995 for 21 months. The court heard of his ‘lavish spending’ on clothes, hotels, and foreign travel (158 BA flights over eleven years). He also built up a million-pound property portfolio in Scotland, including six riverside log cabins which he rented out. In sentencing, Judge Michael Grieve KC spoke of ‘a massive loss to the churches of the City of London, which they could ill afford’. Senior diocesan members who attended Sargent’s civil partnership celebration complete with drag queen must be wondering who paid for it all.
Many will have ‘enjoyed’ the Archbishop Cranmer blog, a pungent online source of gossip, news, and opinion run by the ‘conservative academic, theologian, author and educationalist’ Adrian Hilton. But a visit to the site in November found just a holding page, with everything taken down. ‘Bishop of the Blogosphere, 2006-2022,’ it said. ‘His Grace’s ashes are once more scattered to the winds. “And forasmuch as my hand offended in writing contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished.’” The blog was a staunch supporter of the millionaire Martyn Percy and got itself into more than a little hot water with Christ Church. More, it would seem, than the former Dean is now prepared to help it with; not to mention the possibility that some of it was simply libellous, defamatory, or insane. ‘The CofE’s mediating role is between scepticism and faith, between belief and doubt, pomp and satire, a longing for the sacred combined with a sense that we create the sacred for ourselves,’ said Hilton in a Conservative Philosophy Group lecture delivered in December.
From January’s Private Eye (1589): ‘It’s not only the pandemic where those given voice and prominence by GB News veer towards the unhinged. Host Calvin Robinson, who dresses in an old-fashioned clergy uniform despite the Church of England having declined to ordain him, shared the unfounded theory that the Ukraine war is a money-laundering operation for US aid to be donated by the Democratic party via the use of cryptocurrency. And during recent immigration debates, Robinson, who is black, repeatedly praised the views of Enoch “Rivers of Blood” Powell, tweeting that “Powell provided an important contribution to the conversation” and changing his background image to a picture of the politician.’
That 1968 speech came four years after the rancorous election campaign in Smethwick. The Klu Klux Klan set up there; Malcolm X visited the town in 1965 and was assassinated less than a fortnight later back in the US. A closer look might help Robinson see a different aspect of racial division.
FiF members are understandably concerned about gender at the altar. Some clergy have undergone gender reassignment over the years, but we are now in a different world. The Rev Bingo Allison, 36, is understood to be the Church of England’s first openly non-binary priest, defining as ‘gender queer’ and using the pronouns ‘they/them’. Based in Liverpool, Bingo had a ‘strongly religious’ upbringing in Yorkshire with being gay described as ‘a sinful thing’ but now rejoices in long hair, cosmetics, and fluidity.
A number of deaneries are up for grabs. The Dean of Chichester and the Dean of Chelmsford are both returning to parish ministry (the former over the border to Salisbury, the latter to Chichester diocese). The Dean of Wells has retired. The Dean of Windsor has announced his departure for July, after the Coronation and His Majesty’s first Garter Service; Bishop David Connor was born the year before the King and will be 76 when he steps down this summer. The deanery of Christ Church has been vacant since April last year.
One of the more dramatic revelations of Prince Harry’s memoir Spare is that he is no fan of the New English Bible. At Ludgrove, ‘one particular teacher… whenever he caught me, would give me a tremendous clout, always with a copy of the New English Bible. Getting hit with it made me feel bad about myself, bad about the teacher, and bad about the Bible.’ Elsewhere, without irony, he reflects on playing Conrade in Much Ado who has the line ‘Can you make no use of your discontent?’.
Fr David Houlding has announced his retirement. Loved by many and known by even more, his stints as Master of SSC and Chairman of the Catholic Group on Synod are just two examples of his service to our movement. A consummate showman, his Christmas decorations at All Hallows, Gospel Oak, were legendary and would see the church decorated with at least a dozen trees. They were present and correct on Epiphany Sunday when the Proclamation of Easter and Major Feasts was made, with a local addition this year to publish news of the vicar’s retirement, after 38 years in the parish. Two women burst into tears. He will be missed.