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Hallo again to all.

Recently we were rummaging round in the online Guardian (UK). Annoyed by what appeared to a permanent non-news link on the home page — 'Soulmates' — we clicked on it. It was, perhaps unsuprisingly, an online dating agency. It contained the usual profiles (odd orthography left in place):

'im a pretty decent kind a guy, some might even say quite amiable. I Like all the usual stuff, food, music, film, travel, hot baths, blah, blah'

(We were sorely tempted to reply: 'And with thy blah blah blah'.)

'Soulmates' is one of innumerable online portals (once quaintly called 'marriage bureaux') dedicated to pairing up of the species. Soulmates dating agency logoThe success or silliness of it doesn't interest us at the moment. But the idea that there is someone 'out there' who might be a match oddly connected in our mind to the fact that in a fortnight or so, the blessed dead will be all round us. We'll remember them with a liturgical single-mindedness on All Saints' and All Souls' days. Why not, we thought, an 'All Saints Dating Agency', matching the living with a partner amongst the blessed dead?

We cheerfully admit that the idea of dating the dead is, well, unusual. But every biographer (call them monogamists) and every historian (polygamists, all) spends much time in the presence of those past. Although the vast realm of the Christian dead gives great scope for finding the right partner, in these troublesome and difficult days of the Anglican Communion, it might be useful to get to know someone from our own beloved Ecclesia Anglicana. Charlotte Yonge: Heroes of the Catholic RevivalThe range of personalities of men and women — our brothers and sisters 'gone before' in this branch of the Holy Catholic Church — is startlingly wide. From quiet studious souls who dedicated their lives to liturgical scholarship to men and women who dared to cross accepted lines to follow their Lord, all are waiting for us to invite them to dinner. Often they make themselves known in a full biography, which, even if dated, will bring them to life across the table from us. Occasionally for some of our more recent heroes and saints there are volumes of letters, where the full force of personality is ours to enjoy, without an intermediary.

Not sure what type you're attracted to? Try one or two assignations, with little commitment, by sampling one of the small biographies, published through the years, of some of our most interesting Anglicans, from Christina Rossetti and Charlotte Yonge to Isaac Williams, Charles Marriott, and WE Gladstone. (Like to hear the PM speak? Click here, but be prepared for some muddy sound in this early recording*.)

Perhaps you're drawn to an area of the world where our brothers and sisters have travelled and worked to spread the Gospel. On the pages of Project Canterbury — the closest we have to an Anglican Communion 'Soulmates' service — you can delve into the living past by geography. Tea party with vicarFrom the South Pacific to the North Pole, you can find examples of undaunted courage, sheer lovableness, and unrelenting persistence in the face of all obstacles.

It's obvious that some encounters with the dead lead to a lifetime's fascination and a lifetime's work. A site devoted to the rambunctious early American bishop Philander Chase and dedicated to making available his innumerable papers and letters was begun in the 1990s by a young undergraduate at Kenyon College in Ohio. (The moral here must be to choose carefully: that first date could last a lifetime.) Other first encounters might lead to a strong antipathy, but that too can be useful. WH Auden once wrote that purgatory should consist of pairings of people with radically opposite points of view, required to spend time together till they understood one another. We can think of some interesting Anglican partners for that exercise.

In a recent essay, Bishop Pierre Whalon mused on the connections of the present and past, suggesting that in the midst of all the difficulties in the Church, 'we all need to pause. ... to look back further into our history, to another time when things seemed much worse than today. We need to appreciate just what we have in our hands when we hold Prayer Book and Bible, and how exemplary saints of the past still point us to the essentials we Anglicans share across the board: the Gospel and the Church inextricably joined. And we cannot preserve or defend these essentials by inviting those with whom we disagree to leave'. Choosing to spend some time with someone from the past who has always seemed somewhat uncongenial, for whatever reason, could enlarge our mind and heart in the present.

'Read until you can hear people talk,' an historian once wrote. We have such good company in this blessed Communion. If you only have a spare 30 minutes this week, have a cup of tea with one of them.

See you next week. And that's a dead certainty.

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Last updated: 15 October 2006

*My dear Mr Edison, The request which you have just made of me to receive the record of my voice,
is one which I cheerfully comply with so far as it lies in my power. Though I regret to say that the
voice which I transmit to you is only the relic of an organ, the employment of which has been overstrained.

A thin blue line
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