An old newsletter piece, from around 2002, much augmented…

Archbishop John-Charles has sent me several clippings from the Australian newspapers about Church goings-on down there.  The Dean of Sydney, the Very Reverend Phillip Jensen, went to England for a visit and immediately rendered himself controversial by unbosoming himself of the following opinions:  that the Archbishop of Canterbury is a theological prostitute, who is taking his salary under false pretenses; that the Prince of Wales is ‘a public adulterer’; and – rather oddly – that Kings College Chapel is a ‘temple to paganism’ for selling recordings of its superb choir in the ante-chapel.  Dean Jensen’s brother is the Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, and together they lead what is probably the largest, wealthiest, and strangest Anglican diocese in the world.  I admit, however, that on the matter of ‘strange’ many places now offer stiff competition.

The fuss stirred up by the blunt dean is something I observe more or less entirely from outside.  The ACC and I just don’t have a pony in this particular race.  One gathers that the Prince of Wales is not a model for emulation in every point of his private life. It seems rather rude to describe the Archbishop of Canterbury as a theological prostitute, but ‘heretic’ and ‘schismatic’ probably do apply.  As for Sydney, I don’t know why they bother to call themselves Anglican at all, unless it is to continue to draw the immense income from the lands and funds with which the Anglican diocese of Sydney is endowed.  They certainly have no devotion to the Prayer Book or the office of bishop or the classical Anglican theologians.  Their clergy preach in suits and ties without vestments, they are devoted to John Calvin’s Institutes, and they would be hard pressed to distinguish themselves from your average orthodox Presbyterian.  Though none of this directly affects us, it’s interesting as a symptom of the death throes of the old Anglican Communion.

Along the same lines, I saw figures last week which indicate that the Episcopal Church lost another 30,000 members last year. The same source indicated that 58% of the Episcopal Church’s worshippers are women and that 36% are men over the age of 60.  I’m not a math whiz, but that seems to mean that only 6% of its members are males under the age of 60.  If the figures are correct, that is quite astonishing.  Since one’s ultimate religious commitments are most likely to be fixed by parents who worship together, and failing that are more influenced by the father’s practice than by the mother’s, the feminization of the Episcopal Church, and the related disappearance of its young men and fathers, suggest that there is little future for the institution.

As a reminder of better times, Canon Cotterell recently lent me Priests and Prelates:  The Daily Telegraph Clerical Obituaries by Trevor Beeson (London & New York: Continuum, 2002).  This volume, which was reviewed in the June TRINITARIAN, contains obituaries from 1987 through 2002, which means that it covers the last great generation of English clergy.  The editor notes in his preface that the general decline of the Church of England as a social and cultural institution, and the end of factors such as parson’s freehold which made for independent, well-educated, and colorful clergymen, mean that in the future no such volume is likely.  The clergy just won’t be interesting or important enough to be worth remembering.  A surprising number of the clergy remembered in this book were remarkable in several fields.  Quite a few of them were war heroes, many had great academic distinction, and many lived lives of important pastoral accomplishment and self-sacrifice.  Quite a few also were prickly, difficult, and odd.

Canon David Rutter was a founder of the English Prayer Book Society, of which our friend, Lord Sudeley, became patron.  On the Sunday that the new liturgy was introduced at Lincoln Cathedral, the following was the entirety of Canon Rutter’s sermon:

Dean Dunlop, the man of taste, rejected this service.  Dean Peck, the man of prayer, rejected this service.  It has remained for the present Dean to introduce it.  In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.  (Page 76)

One clergyman, who emptied his church with quarrelling, was asked about the anger his parishioners felt towards him.  He replied, ‘Quite right.  Get the violence off the streets and into the Church where it belongs.’ (p. 36)   Richard Hetherington had a fruitful ministry in the slums of London’s East End and was greatly beloved, even by the gangsters.  At an annual gift day  “…the stream of taxis…descended on St Barnabas’s…each disgorging a lavish gift – a sack of toys, a valuable antique or simply a wad of banknotes.  Ever scrupulous, Hetherington would inquire of each rough-looking philanthropist, ‘It is a genuine gift?  You didn’t lean on anyone for this, I trust?’ to be met with the reply: ‘Clean as a whistle, Reverend, God’s honour.’” (p. 53)  Father Joseph Fahey, a Jesuit and mathematical prodigy, helped support his religious order by gambling.  He was adept at counting cards and beating the odds at blackjack, and won quite a bit before being banned from casinos.  James Roll was a baronet and heir to a great fortune, but served the poorest of parishes, spent almost nothing on himself, and had to be reminded to have his shoes repaired.  Wilbert Awdry was the creator of Thomas the Tank Engine and Thomas’s rolling-stock colleagues.

Here are a few other quotations and observations from this volume:

‘To abandon religion may be honest and honourable, but it is not exactly leaping a prison wall, more like jumping into the dustbin; not a grand illumination, more a putting out of lights.’  (John Harriot, p. 70)

The Reverend Peter Gamble: ‘…he lodged at Ripon Hall, the Church of England’s liberal modernist theological college, and while there was encouraged to seek holy Orders.  His protestation that he knew no theology and believed very little of the Christian faith was swept aside and, after acceptance by a church selection conference and a few months at another theological college, he was ordained by the ultra-modernist Bishop of Birmingham, E.W. Barnes….’ (p. 167)

The Right Reverend Douglas Feaver: ‘His spirituality was founded on the Authorised Version, which he described as “the one memorable version of the Bible”, and on the Book of Common Prayer.  Those drawn to the Alternative Service Book should, he advised: “Taste it and spit it out.”’ (p. 169)

Canon Bill Vanstone: ‘…he had little time for bishops and church dignitaries, once likening the Church to “a swimming pool in which all the noise comes from the shallow end”.’  (p. 216)

‘The average North American boy is a thoroughly likable person; but he has a strong disinclination to learn anything.’  (Father Brocard Sewell.  p. 228) 

Brian Brindley:  ‘He died surrounded by a dozen of his closest friends, celebrating his 70th birthday at a seven-course dinner at the Athenaeum, he suffered a heart attack between the dressed crab and the boeuf en croute.’  (p. 250)

They are going, going, gone:  the brilliant, the colorful, the saints.  Now Church of England bishops are bureaucrats, the clergy are ideologues, and the churches are empty.


Along similar lines, I also offer below some extracts from a delightful book called The Faber Book of Church and Clergy.  London: Faber & Faber, 1992.  Ed. A.N. Wilson.  If you don’t have it, get it!

I think of an old Jesuit – an extremely devout man, who would not have been able to say things merely ‘for effect’ – who once remarked to me that he had never been able to ‘get anything out of the Gospels.  I much prefer the writings of P.G. Wodehouse.’  The remark was all the more striking since this ancient priest, with a severe gravelly voice, never said anything witty or amusing, and did not even appear to possess a sense of humour.  Indeed, as the conversation about his favourite author proceeded, I became aware that he did not know that Wodehouse was supposed to be funny.

I think of another man, the incumbent of the same church for forty years, who was a distinguished numismatist.  He preached on a variety of themes at his morning Mass, but thought it inappropriate, at the evening service of Benediction, to preach on any subject other than the Empress Josephine.   (p. 240)

Another [West Country parson] drove away his congregations, replaced them by wooden and cardboard images in the pews and surrounded his vicarage with a barbed-wire fence behind which savage Alsatians patrolled.

….the entire clerical complement of the diocese of Lincoln…so the new bishop Edward King was informed, ‘could be divided into three categories: those who had gone out of their minds; those who were about to go out of their minds; and those who had no minds to go out of.’   (p. 241)

It has already been seen that Hawker blamed unchastity on ‘that father of English fornication’, John Wesley.  What is clear from his unpublished writings is that Hawker considered that there was a direct relationship, indeed, a correspondence, between Methodism and sexual feeling.  It was not just that he thought that Methodists were pre-eminently lascivious–though he did.  His letters are studded with assertions like ‘in Cornwall and in Wales, the thick places of Methodism, not one woman in 500 (and I speak from statistics verified from official authority) ever marries without disgrace…..It is so general as to be no longer a reproach among themselves.’  Or such announcements as ‘On Saturday I marry Eliza Close, class-leader, pregnant and near child-birth, to Daniel Venning, class-leader and fornicator.’  (p. 253.  From Hawker of Morwenslow, Piers Brendon.)

One thought on “Priests and Prelates

  1. Your Grace, thank you for this interesting essay.
    With respect may I offer one slight correction in regards to the Diocese of Sydney?

    It is certainly the largest Anglican Diocese in Australia, but not in the world, as there are Anglican Communion Dioceses in Africa which have significantly larger numbers of parishioners at worship on Sundays.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s