Magazine article The Spectator

All Go in the Name of God

Magazine article The Spectator

All Go in the Name of God

Article excerpt

RUN O ' THE MILL BISHOP by John Bickersteth Cappella Archives, £24.50, pp. 345, ISBN 1902918215

The Bickersteth family has performed its Levi-like role in the Church of England for several generations, providing it with some of its best traditional pastors.

Rectories, vicarages, deaneries, palaces have homed them and parish churches and cathedrals have long witnessed their work. And work it still is, as this autobiography of a 20th-century bishop proves, although the word in any put-upon or compulsive sense never seems to have entered his head. His chief motivation has been Christ's brief instruction 'Do this.' John Bickersteth is candid, some might think to the point of naivety at times, and his book reads like an opened-up diary, a free view of himself in which he shows pleasure rather than vanity. He knows that he has had a good time. If any member of the Church of England wants to read a hands-on and wonderfully readable account of the manifold changes which have overtaken its classic structure in a single lifetime, then they need go no further than this buoyant confession.

A decade ago John Bickersteth, now late Bishop of Bath and Wells, edited one of the most moving accounts of life in the trenches, The Bickersteth Diaries, written by a military chaplain. They reflected a Church of England which would hardly be recognisable today, one which the war decimated and which had to be repaired.

John Bickersteth was born into this faulty yet seemingly unchangeable structure soon after the war. It was the middleclass world of comparative poverty with servants and this straightforward account of it manages to surprise with its cold attics and Evensongs. Two contrasting lives of service ran side by side in the Canterbury house. At the Deanery George Bell was raising funds by the novel method of making donors 'Friends of the Cathedral'. The excellent 1928 Prayer Book was being projected and the infancy of today's worship was in the air, so to speak. Essentially a religious and social security reigned, if a bit uncomfortably. One of the most engaging aspects of Run o' the Mill Bishop is the way in which it reveals the freedom of the spirit in an established organisation. We are a ceremonial nation and an unconventional one at the same time. We have a way of breaking out while staying in, and are thought very odd because of it. We manage to alter the framework without damaging it, although we haven't done so well with its language. What we need now is a great liturgical writer for the 21st century and beyond. It is now considered a pity not to hanker for the old words. …

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