Nearly two years ago now, the Very Reverend Henry Thorold died at age 78. Now there is no particular reason why, unless you are a collector of clergymen, you should know his name. But here is a bit of a sketch from his Times obituary:
As personally admirable as was Henry Thorold, we regret here the loss of his type: the eccentric, the charmingly odd, and, occasionally, the irritating. What is it about the churchor indeed societynow that seems to encourage dull conformity? Past ages had more tolerance for an unusual personality. Take any 18th to early-20th century clerical or episcopal biography from a shelf and you'll encounter figures more colourful than, say, your current archdeacon. (See Worth Noting for a few of them.)
We wonder: is it committees that ruthlessly eliminate the unusual and the different in the church today? Worry that the colourful may be the potentially criminal? The mildly eccentric foreshadow the mentally unstable? Even if such institutional nail-biting in this litigious world is understandable, we would argue that the church, of all places, should be the encourager and caretaker of character in its deacons, priests, and bishops. Balancing that desire with the obvious need for a degree of standardisation isn't easy. But surely we can try. We must try. Otherwise the church will be filled with the uninspiring and the undistinguished, the cleric in the grey flannel surplice. There is a difference between colourful and being daft or apostate, and, though we aren't sure just how to describe that difference, we all know it when we see it.
We recall with amusement a bishop listing his hobby, in a 1960s edition of Who's Who, as 'boot blacking'. Coming at the end of a cumulatively impressive biography, the effect was droll: there was a person who came alive in the solemn column of justified type. And this isn't mere frivolity. Often the ability to be different, to not care, from time to time, what others think, to be able to stand apart: these qualities can signal a person of compelling moral force, able to speak without fear on issues of substance in the church.
No doubt many of the bishops who are possible nominees for the next Archbishop of Canterbury are charming and distinguished prelates. But are any of them, well, colourful? We certainly hope so.
This week we remember in our prayers AO's good friend in Australia, Katherine Bowyer, who will be ordained to the diaconate in the Diocese of Newcastle on Saturday.
See you next week.
Last updated: 27 January 2002