The Press Saturday, October 3rd 1998
Of course the real story of the week is Victoria's cakes. Product differentiation among religious affairs correspondents is not easy. first they must distinguish themselves from each other, in the hope of moving on to jobs more glamorous or interesting, if such can be conceived. Then they must find some way to unwind after a hard day trying to do their bit for the conversion of England. Clifford Longley once made a program to play draughts on an Amstrad PCW but he never wrote about that side of life, whereas in the hurried tempo of modern journalism you have no time to do anything that you will not at some stage write about. Ruth Gledhill dances and writes about it every chance she gets. One can see her eventually, loaded with honours and sequins, gaining the title she really covets: "DanceSport editor of the Times" .
Madeleine Bunting has two small children and thus never relaxes for any reason whatsoever. Victoria Combe got married; not, in my experience, an infallible recipe for relaxation but at least it gives you something else to write about: in her case domestic incompetence and the fact that she had never baked a cake in her life before her prospective mother-in-law came to visit. Daily Telegraph readers understand that the ability to bake for your husband's relatives is perhaps the single most important quality in a wife, and offers of help poured in. She ended up with 200 recipes and worn out knees from trying to jog away the results of her conscientious testing. Now they have been published in the Daily Telegraph book of cakes and I can only urge readers to buy as many copies as possible. Let not that suffering have been in vain.
Meanwhile, Ruth had a distressing experience in California where she had gone to compete in the world ballroom dancing championships. She was overwhelmed by vulgarity: fortunately, it happened in church and not on the dance floor. She went to the Crystal Cathedral, a Californian church with a congregation of 10,000 whose pastor, Robert Schuller, has had five books on the New York Times best seller list and runs one of the most popular religious television shows in the USA. The architecture amazed her and the barbecued breakfast after the service was not bad. The horror came earlier: "After a short reading we were encouraged to turn to at least five people nearby and say out loud to them 'God loves you and so do I.' My husband almost ran out at this point. Never again will I complain about the enforced intimacy of shaking hands with strangers in English churches."
Back in the ephemeral world, Christopher Morgan had an excellent scoop on Sunday with the news that the standing committee of the House of Bishops were to discuss the rearrange of divorcees. It was followed up for several days, which is the thing that journalists really care about. The interesting thing is how little reaction he was able to get from people opposed to the measure. George Austin voiced the obvious suspicion that "the real reason is that they would like to make it possible for the Prince of Wales to be married in church." I'm not sure whether getting a quote from George Austin really counts. As was originally said of my friend Ed Steen, getting an opinion from George is like getting blood from an artery. But no one else could be found to say what he had said; this is probably because it is self-evidently true.
Stephen Glover, in the Daily Mail, gazed down at these squabbles from a position of characteristic benevolent hauteur. His brother-in-law is Kenneth Stevenson, the bishop of Portsmouth which gives a certain authority to his view that "Though its regulations decree otherwise, the Church is covertly allowing many more remarriages of divorced people than is generally realised. One diocesan bishop tells me that there are regularly remarriages of divorced people in about 25 per cent of his parishes — and he thinks this is pretty typical of the whole Church of England.
"My fear is that the Church of England is motivated partly be a sense of its own weakness and helplessness. It is not weak in buildings or assets or in symbols of power, or even in the hold that it still retains on our affections" Savour, for a moment, that gloriously Oxonian use of "our" in probably its only breeding habitat outside of the Daily Telegraph leader columns: it means "me and people who share my outlook on life, who have the only opinions that count." So much to fit into one small diphthong.
Still, he does give some vulgar, practical reasons why people might suppose the Church of England was weak: "It is weak in a day-to-day and practical sense. Church attendance continues to fall; and some of those who forsake dwindling conversations are divorced people who do not feel easy with a church that can still remove them remarriage. The present arrangements are not good for business." It is wonderful to find someone who thinks that the Church of England should — or can — entirely ignore such practical matters so long as it retains its hold on the affections of the people who really matter. "How can you make a vow a second time which you have already broken? God needs to have a sense of humour to cope with these contradictions." I don't think, somehow, that Stephen really believes She has a sense of humour.
But the oddest sentence of the week came at the end of the Times 's obituary of Brian Masters. I knew him slightly and liked him a great deal, not least because he was the only bishop ever to look me in the eye and tell me I was going to hell, though I am sure that the thought has occurred to others. He had all the charm of intelligent men who loathe themselves; he never told me lies and he sometimes came out with very good jokes. "In Edmonton", he once said, "they only use the Roman rite when they know the Bishop is visiting." But it was still a shock to find at the end of his obituary, in place of the traditional "He never married", the single, defiant sentence. "He remained celibate."