London, Gothenburg, Edinburgh.
Before I set off on my travels again (this time, to Switzerland), let me fill in a few of my “retirement” doings in the last few months.
Early in May, I went to London and stayed with the ever-hospitable Fr Paul Bagott in the Clergy House of St Cuthbert’s, Philbeach Gardens, in Earls Court. St Cuthbert’s is one of the largest and most elaborate 19th century Anglo-Catholic churches in London and, though badly damaged in the Second World War, has now been restored to its former glory. It is full of wonderful art work and has a magnificent collection of vestments.
The day after I arrived was Ascension Day, so I went to the High Mass that evening at St Mary’s, Bourne St, my favorite London church. When I was appointed Vicar-General of the Diocese in Europe, and was looking for a house in London, I stayed in St Mary’s Presbytery. Fr Bill Scott, whom I had known since he was a seminarian, was then the Vicar, and he gave me the apartment which had recently been vacated by Dr Eric Mascall, one of the most brilliant theologians of the 20th century Church of England. My rent was simply to say one or two of the weekly Masses at St Mary’s, and I enjoyed the Presbytery so much that I rather slowed down looking for the house and stayed more than a year! Consequently I came to know many of the regular congregation. Afterwards I found a very fine house in Barnsbury, Islington, and Fr Scott moved to the Savoy Chapel. The patron of this chapel, the only bit left of the great Savoy Palace, is the Queen, patron not because she is Queen but because she is Duke of Lancaster (yes, Duke, not Duchess!), therefore the National Anthem is sung there every Sunday after Mass in a unique version, which goes: “God save our gracious Queen, Long live our noble Duke, God save the Queen”. ( But – not for the first time – I digress.) The Ascension Day Mass was as glorious as usual at St Mary’s and, by a strange coincidence the celebrant was Fr Scott, now a Prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral and recently retired as the Queen’s Domestic Chaplain. Needless to say, after the usual champagne in the Presbytery library (I say usual, since this happens every Sunday at St Mary’s, not just on the greater feasts), the pair of us went off to dinner at La Poule au Pot, a splendid French restaurant in nearby Pimlico Square.
Later that first week I took the train to Norwich through ever more rural England, through old woodlands and farms like picture postcards of Old England, but with sudden shockingly brilliant yellow fields, a comparatively recent crop called oil-seed rape, from which I believe oil is extracted. And every few miles, one would see the slender spires or the solid square towers of the hundreds of mediaeval churches of Suffolk and Norfolk. In Norwich I was met by Canon Jeremy Haselock, another very old friend, who is Vice-Dean of Norwich Cathedral. Choral Evensong is sung daily in the Cathedral, as it is in the 43 British Cathedrals of the Church of England (the 44th is Gibraltar, where Evensong is only said daily). After Evensong Canon Haselock prepared a delicious dinner. The next day we drove to the Norfolk coast and walked along the windy dunes. I don’t think there is any county like Norfolk with such a variety of beaches , some of sand, others of pebbles, all under the widest skies in England. (Now Scotland – that is quite another matter!)
After another day back in London, I flew to Gothenburg in Sweden, where I had agreed to be the locum Chaplain of St Andrew’s, the English Church there, until their new Chaplain arrived. I knew the church from my time when I was Chaplain in Stockholm, but had never seen the Chaplain’s apartment. So I was delighted when it turned out to be in a huge circle of flats, surrounding central lawns and gardens, and set on the top of one of those great rocky outcrops which are such a feature of the Swedish landscape. The views over Gothenburg’s harbour were magnificent. The only drawback was the climb back up after being down in the city! I was prepared to be there for four weeks but in fact only had to do two, since the new Chaplain’s problems with getting a work visa for Sweden were suddenly solved and he was able to arrive earlier than he expected. I therefore did only Whitsunday and Trinity Sunday at St Andrew’s, both of which were delightful. The congregation was the usual mixture of English residents, students, or people who had come to work in Sweden. But there were also a large number of Indians and Africans, which spiced up the singing considerably.
During one of my weeks in Gothenburg, I took the train for the three-hour journey to Stockholm, my old parish. Though I have been away for over twenty years, I still have a lot of friends there, and in three days I managed to see quite a lot of them. Much as I was enjoying Gothenburg, I realized that my heart belonged to Stockholm. As a native of Edinburgh, I compared Gothenburg to Glasgow and Stockholm to Edinburgh. The latter two are capital cities with royal palaces and all the embassies and diplomatic life that goes with them. Glasgow and Gothenburg are both great ports and have quite a different feel to them. The weather, which in May can be unpredictable so far north, was sunny and bright, so I had a great time meeting up with friends in many different parts of the city, from the Old Town with its fine Cathedral to suburbs full of a mixture of Gustavian apartment blocks (you can’t call them Victorian in Sweden!) and modern glass towers. And everywhere there is water, since the city is built on a dozen or two islands.
After two weeks in Sweden I returned to London, where I met up with two young priest friends who had just been married by their Bishop, the Bishop of Long Island in his Cathedral. What made this rather special was that both of them were male – as was the Bishop! I pondered on how far the American Episcopal Church has grown in its recognition of same-sex marriages, and gave thanks for its refusal to discriminate between the clergy and the laity in this. The Scottish Episcopal Church is, God grant, not far behind and, as I write, the Canadian Anglican Church has voted by almost two thirds to do the same, though they will need to have over two-thirds to make it canonical. The Church of England is deeply divided over the matter, mainly because of the large number of Evangelicals in its membership. Their selective reading of the Bible gives them the excuse to continue to condemn same-sex unions, while cheerfully consuming shrimp cocktails and pork chops, and weakly refusing to put any girls to death for disobeying their parents. No doubt, as with slavery and lady Bishops, the Lord will one day enlighten them.
With the liberty of the retiree, I then decided to have a week in Scotland, so I took the train to Edinburgh and went to stay with Grant in West Linton, a little village half an hour’s drive from the city. Miraculously I had sunshine for a whole week and even managed to get sunburnt, no mean feat in Scotland at the beginning of June. Ever since I left I have checked the weather and sure enough it has all returned to the normal outlook of “light rain” or “showers with bright spells”. We pay dearly for that soft green look.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I came back to Philadelphia very gladly. But, as I said, after six weeks at home, I am about to set off to be locum Chaplain in Montreux in Switzerland. I’ll add to my blog from there.