Saturday, 13 August 2016

Black, Black, Black

"Aren't you hot, wearing all black?" people say to me in the summer. Depending on the mood I'm in, I will say either "Oh, yes" in a cheerfully disarming way, as though it was absurd to imagine any differently, or conversely claim that I'm impervious to heat. I think my interlocutors sometimes imagine I am obliged to wear black, which is of course not the case. Marion our curate will wear a black shirt a lot of the time, although for Toddler Group and other such occasions she adopts a variety of amiable sweaters which are doubtless supposed to suggest warmth and approachability but some of which I find a bit challenging. Dr Bones's father, the estimable vicar of Oakington, hardly ever wears clerical gear of any kind, as he says everyone in the village knows him anyway; evangelical clergy like him are much more likely than Anglo-Catholics to adopt a less monochrome dress code, although the great Fr Maurice Child of Cranford scorned clerical dress too. Most of his parish is now under Heathrow Airport (I'm not claiming there's a causal connection). 

In my Lamford days Il Rettore once shared with me SJ Forrest's rhyme 'A Clergyman in Black':

I never, never like to see
A clergyman in black.
It speaks of dark disloyalty,
And clandestine attack;
Of sabotage, conspiracy,
And stabbings in the back.

This black fanaticism bears
The label of the Beast;
An aping of the Romanists,
A masquerade at least,
That makes a clergyman appear
A veritable priest.

Though ministers are difficult
To sift and classify,
I find the deeds of darkness
In the men of deepest dye;
And those in black are normally
So very, very High.

Although I do not like High Church
I'd stomach one or two
(The Church of England's big enough
To tolerate a few).
If only they would not behave
As if their faith were true.

A clergyman in corduroys
Or dressed in Harris tweed,
Will generally compromise,
And readily accede;
His safety and his sympathy,
Are wholly guaranteed.

So let us warn our ordinands
Of folly and excess,
And only pass the ministers
Who honestly profess
A variegated churchmanship,
In varicoloured dress.

I have worn uniform black since the age of 18 or thereabouts and wouldn't feel very comfortable in anything else, although in my middle age I have become quite enamoured of striped shirts and ties in a variety of hues. It is of course the case that black garb speaks of the otherness of the ordained life, which is a point worth making even in an orderly village, but I probably would have chosen it anyway.

'I think the jacket and waistcoat are more likely to make you hot than the fact that they're black', said Ms Formerly Aldgate. She is as usual right.

1 comment:

  1. You could see Heathrow as a kind of divine retribution I, but I'm relieved to know that it's not Fr Child's customary appearance that brought it about- that would seem a little severe.