Monday, 18 March 2013

Lent for Extroverts 29: Ambition and the C of E

Archdeacon Robert - has Episcopal aspirations
When there's nothing on the TV I am prone to watching DVD episodes of Rev. This is a UK comedy, certification 15, starring Tom Hollander as Rev. Adam Smallbone, an Anglican priest, struggling to balance the demands of a small bunch of parishioners, a large and costly church building and a life at the sharp edge of inner city London. It proved a surprise hit when it first appeared in June 2010 (a week before I got ordained), winning a slew of awards inclding Best Sitcom in the British Academy Television Awards. 

Nigel - already a lay reader - thinks he'd be
perfect for Anglican Ordination
In episode 6 of series 2, advancement in the Church of England is considered, with both the weasley Archdeacon (above) and Adam's Lay Reader (the humourless Nigel) looking to advance their ecclesiastical careers (or to discern God's voice in the next step, if you want to put a good gloss on it). 

Archdeacon Robert, usually self assured and bullying, suddenly develops a sickening 'humility', telling all and sundry that he could not possibly presume to be a bishop, unless of course God were calling him. And Nigel, in a wonderful scene of body language belying what he knows to be false, invents a girlfriend called Cherry to make his social and emotional life appear a lot healthier, and takes up hanging around with 'the youth' and the homeless, in the hope of being selected for Ordination training.

The tortuous C of E selection process has been renamed endless times to try and make it seem more palatable, now being called a Bishops Advisory Panel, or BAP for short; an acronym which is misleading in its suggestions of something light and fluffy. In reality it is the best part of three days of interviews and clerically observed meal times, in a conference centre somewhere cold and difficult to drive to, which is demanding enough to leave you in a state of mental and physical demise for days afterwards. 

Recommendation to attend a BAP is in the hands of the Diocesan Director of Ordinands and the local Bishop. To get to see a DDO you need to have spoken to your Vicar and at least one Vocations Advisor, and filled in enough paperwork to necessitate a small forest of saplings to be replanted. So I have some sympathy with Nigel.

The process for appointing a bishop is even more convoluted, involving a 'Vacancy in See' committee; a Cathedral dean; 2 Archdeacons; members of the General Synod; two Archbishops; The Crown Nominations Commission, and, of course, secret meetings. In episode 6 we are treated to Archdeacon Robert squirming in front of a panel of imposing C of E people, one of whom wants to know, before he can be appointed bishop, if he is in an 'active gay relationship'. He crucially hesitates, and we know he will thereby 'fail' to be appointed.

Nigel is also, unsurprisingly, unsuccessful in his hopes to be recommended for ordination training, and is genuinely, lividly upset. Both wander into the church in the final scene, to seek solace, and we hear the strains of jazz music wafting out of the church CD player. It is music lent to Adam by an elderly care home parishioner for whom it recalls happier days. Joining them quietly in the pews are Adam and wife, Alex, who have endured a brief marital crisis, and Colin the drunk who has lost yet another another job. 

The whole episode makes you want to rail against the horrible clashes of personal and priestly life and the complicated and sometimes cruel church processes; yet we're presented with the underlying conviction that in it all there's still something profound worth giving your life to.

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