Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sunday Supplement: Traditionalist Church

Sir Richard Arcos writes: Having spent much time visiting the newer sorts of church, I decided this week to pay a visit to a church noted for its attachment to tradition. My daughter decided to write an annoying letter to me, telling me that I was a hypocrite for all my writing about 'modern' churches, and that I should go to a church that was more wedded to tradition.

So I decided to visit the church of St. Nicholas, Beerburgh. The Rector of Beerburgh, the hon. Stuart Steward-Sausage, is a noted defender of tradition. He has opposed every innovation over the last five decades on the basis that it 'isn't the way we do things.'

Arriving at the church for nine-fifteen, I noted that it was in a state of some disrepair. The roof has apparently been missing for twenty years, after the regiular carpenter died, and the new man proposed to use an electric saw. The small congregation now sits rather forlornly on fallen stones, while the distinguished Rector preaches from the shattered remains of the pulpit. The Organ has long since decayed, and now the congregation sings rather tunelessly from damp-stained hymnbooks.

The first hymn was 'Rock Of Ages', after which the announcements were read out. These have not been changed since 1956, which is a pity, as a number of the places mentioned no longer exist, and if anyone tries to visit the place mentioned as the point where one may go after the service, they will find it is now a leisure centre.

The sermon was entitled, 'Be British.' It was devoid of biblical content, although full of patriotic sentiment. We had numerous refences to the British Empire, although none to that everlasting kingdom. The rector mentioned his pre-war service in 'Rhodesia, which is now called by another name.' The scene was immensely affecting, although not in the right way. These were people who looked back to a kingdom that was ended, and not to that kingdom which is to come. The worship was directed to the old England, a country that is almost perished, and not 'a better country, that is, an heavenly' realm.

And yet, at evensong, this church, living on the tradtions of the British Empire sings:

So be it Lord, thy Throne shall never,
Like Earth's Proud Empires, pass away:
Thy Kingdom stands, and grows for ever
Till all Thy Creatures Own Thy Sway!
If only they knew...

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