Friday, 10 July 2009

Re-arranging the Titanic’s deckchairs

I’m under strict instructions not to laugh while reading Manx newspapers in case my stitches burst, but most days I can’t help it. Take this week’s Indie and a story (New canons and priests) which, wisely, isn’t deemed fit for the online version. (12/7/09 update - it's there now at
Apparently Sentamu’s Apprentice has appointed three new Manx priests and six honorary canons to the Cathedral. Anglican watchers knew he needed to bring in off-island professionals to balance the conservatism of local hobby vicars. So St. Thomas’s gets a husband and wife team and, next door, St Ninians gets a priest too.
Several funny and interesting things about the appointments. Firstly St. Thomas’s used to be the combined parish of All Saints and St. Thomas’s with (even more confusingly) a priest living in the street behind St. Ninians assisted by a curate who looked after the much smaller but wealthier St. Thomas’s congregation. The All Saints priest was then hospital chaplain to the old Nobles, and as there wasn’t enough for the curate to do he also acted as a general gofer for the bishop. The St. Thomas’s congregation, all very fur coat and no knickers, never liked this practical arrangement and have earbashed the last three bishops to be a ‘stand alone’ parish.
So the new St. Thomas’s guy becomes the ‘official’ priest while his wife is a ‘non-stipendiary priest’ (i.e. unpaid) and, more interestingly, ‘half-time chaplain to Hospice Isle of Man’.
In other words, a parish so small a baby curate could tend it on his day off now has two priests, one to minister to half a dozen folk in a church and be school governor to the primary school next door (which incidentally, even using illegal job advertising, could not find an Anglican head teacher and had to settle for a Broadway bampot) one to charm legacies out of dying Rotarians.
I’m sure the St. Ninian’s guy will be just as busy. Let’s see - he can pop across the road to St Ninian’s School and watch devotees of the Living Hopelessly cult whip up funds to further inconvenience disempowered Africans, and on Sundays stand at the door of his church watching worshippers drive into the fancy car park of the presbyterian church next door.
The honorary canons to the cathedral are even funnier, but equally illuminating. Six canons could outnumber the congregation most weeks, as the core congregation of wealthy, influential conservatives drifted away during the tenure of a previous priest, an amiable old buffer who didn’t hate women enough for their tastes.
The interesting thing is the new canons include Radio Cowshed’s religious correspondent (Catholic, female), the head of the Mothers Union (traditional enemy of the last two misogynists – sorry, bishops), a lady vicar from the South, a Blairite vicar (literally, he was the bass player in Tony Blair’s school band) and a Douglas Methodist.
Tucked away ‘accidentally’ in the last paragraph of the report is another gem. The diocesan warden of readers (i.e. the guy who trains and places clerical hobbyists to help out full time vicars) is moving to Corfu.
For some time, just as the laity members at Anglican Central have struggled with the career clergy to re-establish the homophobia and misogynism of their distant childhoods, lay readers and ‘non stipendiary ministers’ have been doing the same in Manx Anglicanism. For example, they were behind the ‘rationalisation’ which saw vicarages sold as fast as elderly vicars could be retired, especially if occupied by those who championed lady clergy.
In addition, long before the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans moved to make things official, Forward in Faith (which has a strong island contingent and really should rename itself Backwards in Belligerence) discussed trying to align Anglican hatred of women, gays and most other humanity under the leadership of any sympathetic bishop overseeing a diocese nominally comprised of rich ex-pats scattered throughout the world.
So, the poor old bish may be merely re-arranging deckchairs on a sinking ship, but in doing so is demonstrating he favours a broad church and interdenominational dialogue. We should give him that.

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