Passing through Blackwells, I came upon a remaindered copy of Bishop Eric Kemp's autobiography, Shy but not retiring (his obit, by the way, was on Sunday; cuius animae propitietur Deus). I snaffled it up and brought it home to read. This is a splendid book to give to anyone tempted by the mirage of a long-term future in the Church of England.
It is of course cruel to flay anybody from the comfortable and complaisant high ground of hindsight. And probably dangerous: which of us could pass such an exacting test? But ... yes, you knew there was a But coming, didn't you?
Back in the 1990s, we all thought that the Leaders of thge Catholic Movement would pull some rabbit out of their hats. And of nobody did we have more expectations than of Eric Kemp. He had been around - with a finger in every pie, be it Anglo-Catholicism or Church politics - since the 1930s. But we now know that there was no rabbit and probably not even a hat. In as far as anything did get cooked up, it was done by a suave figure of the Establishment, the Old Etonian John Habgood.
It was fun in the Diocese of Chichester in Kemp's days, the 'Indian summer of the Church of England'. But we were living off the fat. There was no coherent plan ... what am I saying: there was not even an incoherent plan ... for anything that might be described as a future. We were teetering, just about to plunge, on the funfair railway, from the point right at the top, down the big slope to the splash at the bottom. And, as I now learn from Kemp's autobiography, the Butler was not even laying down a vintage or two whose drinking date would be ten, or twenty, years ahead. BTW, I am going for a Guinness Book of Records entry for mixed or inappositely combined metaphors*.
Eric's biography reveals that at no point did he have a higher motive than shepherding his diocese, looking after his clergy (at which he was very good) and keeping, for as long as he could, his own hand on the tiller. There have been vast swathes of Church History in which such ambitions sufficed for a Bishop in the Church of God. But in the decades of Eric Kemp's episcopate, there needed to be a sense of whither to turn that tiller; an attempt to discern the Signs of the Times; a capacity and a willingness, as they say in business, to think outside the box.
And now SWISH offer us another pointless, wasted, generation of the same ball-game. And why? In a determined attempt quite simply to spoil Dr Ratzinger's gambit.
*How many does that make?