Sunday, 17 August 2008

Protestants and Ostrich Plumes.

Our Lady enjoying her last day of extra Assumption candles. I swear I heard her whispering 'thank you' when I lit them. You can see Simon in the background who is soon leaving us for his training.

The Preface this morning.

Mass this morning at St Hilda's.

The Holy Table at Dunham Massey.

A Protestant Chapel (in Dunham Massey).

A Protestant bed!

Dunham Massey gardens.

Over the lake.

Yesterday I went to Dunham Village in Cheshire and Dunham Massey, the country house which gave birth to the village. Dunham Massey was home to a family of arch protestants, which can be seen in the pictures of the Chapel above. I was pottering about in Church the other week, renovating heaven and adjusting the stars, as has been said before, when a lady wearing garments which had a passing acquaintance with items of clothing came in and enquired about Baptism. Hoping Our Lady wouldn't see her, I conferred with her in the Baptistry and arranged for her to come after (or preferably during and after, but don't count your chickens) High Mass the following Sunday. She seemed then to take in the Church for the first time and notice the statues and candles and all the other trappings of the Faith. She seemed about to make her excuses in the modern way (run away, muttering to herself) when I intervened and said something along the lines of 'were you expecting something a little more austere?'. She concurred and it became clear that in her mind there were two types of Church, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, the former being a hotbed of child abusers and the latter stern men in gaiters and black scarves. What to do?

Well, clearly a potted history of the Church was not going to be appropriate, but I think I was convincing enough, for the Baptism is in a few weeks, although I am expecting a few raised eyebrows on the day. The moral of the story is that we can be confusing, sometimes and incoherent as a Church. Each place can be different, some welcoming, some not welcoming, leading to their eventual abandonment by parochial clergy and closure, for no Church is an island and setting oneself above others is the surest way to fail. She was confused by an Anglican (or Protestant, as she insisted) Church having statues, smelling of incense and having a peculiar fat man in a cassock telling her stories which contradicted her History lessons. Gentleness and a commitment to the Parish won the day, I hope.

Dunham Massey is similarly incoherent. It is magnificent, full of sweeping staircases, great gilt candelabrum, baroque paintings and ostrich plumes on four poster beds, yet the Chapel is, like Burghley in Lincolnshire, an arch Protestant one. The house is decked with paintings of Earls in grandeur, yet the Chapel is plain, wooden and unadorned (apart from a later addition of an altar-table cloth). This lack of connectivity between ones worshipping and other life is at the root of the confusion we suffer from in this country in our oft misunderstood relationship between Church, State and private life which still plagues us now, generating ideas in Africa of the 'colonial relic' of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the supremacy of crown over Church. The perceived advantage of disestablishmentarianism is that it will separate both bodies, making them more reliant on each other, but with space to grow, whereas antidisestablishmentarianism claims that there would simply be a great confusion, with the Church weakened in the eyes of the populace. In this multicultural society and pluralist government, we have some hard realities to face up to, whichever side of the fence we sit on. Everything else has changed and the monarchy is next. This brave new church which everyone is so intent on pulling to pieces is about to be tested by the mood of the nation and this gives us in our wing all the more reason to hold fast to uncompromised truths. When the boat sinks, only the truth will save us from drowning. The only problem is, we need to be willing to let people cling to us.