Tuesday, 31 March 2009

St Anthony of Padua Does It Again

We have the Bishop coming to Lamford this Easter Day to baptise and confirm about a dozen people from the parish. At 6am. And he volunteered.

Anyway. This Sunday morning at quarter to 8 Il Rettore bursts into the sacristy to announce that the confirmation register is missing. 'Where did you put it?' 'What, you mean two years ago?' I respond in an instantly ill temper. Rettore then races round for ten minutes trying to find the errant document. I really didn't think it was the time for a search, but most of my irritation arose from the guilty thought that I might, indeed, have lost the thing. Could I have left it at the cathedral after the confirmations in 2007? No, they failed to find it in their lost property box yesterday. (There was one from another church, however).

This afternoon I spotted a box behind another box under a desk in the photocopier room in the parish centre and there, among obselete liturgical books and Bibles nobody bothers to read, was a telltale glimpse of green binding. The register is found. Not before we bought another one, of course. It was moved along with all the other stuff from the church during our electrical works 18 months ago. Of such details is parish life composed, and our little sins and repentances.

The Passion of Richard Dawkins

Somebody lent me a DVD of a debate between celebrity unbeliever Dr Richard Dawkins and his Christian mathematician colleague at Oxford, John Lennox, about Dr D's book The God Delusion, staged at the Christian Fixed Point Foundation in Alabama. It was, for the most part, terribly polite, I suppose unsurprisingly as it would have been highly unlikely that either gentleman would have come up with an argument the other hadn't heard a score of times before. I ended up thinking what a good showing Dr Dawkins put up, apart from being completely wrong.

There's little enlightening for most of us in this: we've heard the arguments before, too. But I was very struck by Dr Dawkins's very visceral observations on the fact that, in the end, your attitude to Christianity resolves into what you think happened to Jesus of Nazareth to make people believe he had been resurrected. He talked less of its truth or untruth and more of its wrongness, using words like 'petty', 'narrow', parochial', 'small'. He resents setting his grand vision of the interlocking logic of the Darwinian cosmos alongside something so historically bounded. Next to the boundless majesty of the heavens, Christianity is monstrous because its truthfulness rests on one person and one set of events in one place at one time. That Dr Dawkins actually showed some signs of passionate engagement at this point is very revealing. It's fascinating to engage with what atheists feel rather than what they say they think.

Funny Peculiar

The question torments me still: was the church of Elmham, not far away from us at Lamford, ever a Royal Peculiar? Our assistant Sacristan, who used to worship at Elmham, doggedly maintains that they both were. On the face of it, everyone knows which churches have been 'Royal Peculiars', that is, subject to the jurisdiction of the Crown rather than the local bishop. The list is limited, and neither Elmham nor Lamford are on it. They were both Crown livings once upon a time, so perhaps this legend is folkloric inflation. But I've come across references to Royal Peculiars which aren't on 'the list', yet did indeed maintain peculiar courts - Gillingham in Dorset, for instance. So I don't know, and remain tormented.

Then again, this same lady told me in all seriousness that Elmham has a black Latin chasuble hand-made for it by Queen Victoria from knicker material. Now I can't imagine how that story got going, given that it outrages everything we know about the good Queen-Empress.

Clergy sometimes do get a bit skittish, and perhaps these legends have a clerical origin. This week it was my turn to assemble the weekly newsletter. I didn't know what anthem the choir would be singing, so sent it to the office with the instruction to check with our Director of Music. In a moment of weakness I'd filled the gap with 'Popeye the Sailor Man' by Charpentier. The Rector had his own moment of weakness, translated the title into French as 'Grosyeux le Matelot', and left it. ONE PERSON in the congregation noticed.