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A View from St Giles’

Katharine Rumens Rector, St Giles’ Cripplegate


y idea for active ecumenism is for the next archbishop and pope to try job sharing. Castel

Gandolfo for when the family wants to come and visit, Lambeth Palace for those shopping trips. I know the job was redefined 477 years ago in this country when areas of separate responsibility were created, but these are cash-strapped days and there has to be some benefit in sharing resources and sermons.

Rome is outsearching for theirs, we’ve got ours. For compatibility, we would prefer theirs also to have some knowledge of the oil industry and, for their part, Rome will probably ask for some upskilling so that our man can companionably tweet in Latin. It took the Church of England nearly a year to fill the mitre; Rome, we are assured, will act more swiftly.

There was an invitation to St Paul’s for the Confirmation of the Election of the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Sarah’s parents, who had come down from Yorkshire for a few days, like nothing better than finding interesting things to do. They happened to meet AB of C-elect on the steps and chummily walked in with him. An hour and a half later they left the Cathedral looking for lunch and AB of C-elect walked away without the elect. We had been invited to the service with the warning that it was part worship and part Iolanthe. However this was no amateur G & S production; the Church of England has had a long time to practise , 477 years to be precise.

I found myself sitting among the Coventry supporters who had arrived by the coach load. They hadn’t been able to get tickets to the even grander occasion of the enthronement in Canterbury in March. This seemed a little harsh because AB of C-elect used to be their vicar and they have fond


memories of his doing normal vicary things like stacking chairs and sweeping up after the parish social. We had a good sing before the confusion of the church and law gravitated to the raised platform under the dome. The church element sounded like the opening of something solemn and Shakespearean, “My Lords Gloucester and Kent, Salisbury, Exeter and York greetings and what have you been up to now?” (I paraphrase.) Then the law arrived with manly scrolls and pens. Those sitting in the front seats got a good view and could verify that it really was history in the making. For us in steerage, it looked like an elaborate version of the sort of thing you and I go through when we want to make changes to a bank account. Utility bill and passport produced, photocopied, checked and countersigned. No white smoke and Habemus Papem. We Protestants don’t go in for that sort of showiness.

Not that the Church of England has a lot to write home about right now. These past months have not been what you would call wonderful when it comes to the matters we spend too long discussing.

I went to Church House for the General Synod vote in November. We had thought that, flawed as the legislation was, it would get through: we’d spent so much time in prayer and debate and 42 out of 44 dioceses couldn’t be that wrong. No so. Having recovered some sense of purpose and perspective, I cheered up when I discovered the Museum of London selling distinctly vulgar episcopal amethyst rings for £2. I bought some to distribute to women who have utility bill and passport at the ready. Meanwhile I’ll concentrate on being a parish priest. At school assembly the children were trying so hard to name the baby. They were giving the answers they thought I longed to hear. “What did the mum and dad decide to call the

baby?” I was offered a variety of names, “God, Jesus, Moses, Bethlehem, Goliath.” They were flummoxed when the answer I wanted was ‘Laughter’, but later happily risked naming things necessary for a journey, “Clothes, slippers and marshmallows”. It’s Lent and the giving up is within us. My Roman Catholic colleague used to observe Lent by not taking taxis or buying the Evening Standard. Now the latter is free, I don’t know what other luxury he renounces. I’m all for simpler living and seeing if I can do it. As a parish we spend a summer weekend with a community that does not believe in cling film. There is a stern notice above the dispenser in the kitchen warning that 20cm of cling film may be a jolly nifty way of keeping your cold cooked potatoes fresh and lovely, but it lives a long time and is a menace. It can strangle puppies, suffocate dolphins, block drains and still be destructively lingering on the planet in 5000 years’ time.

So in my search for simpler living I’m giving up cling film and cutting down on card board sleeves. The instructions always say ‘remove cardboard sleeve.’ Well we should do so right there at the checkout; plus all the other debris called packaging. Loose biscuits and carrots jumbled up together at the bottom of the shopping bag were good enough for our grandparents.

And my third Lenten discipline: to give up hurrying; so bad for us and bad for the planet too. At which point I leisurely conclude.

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