Mystery in the Church of England

Some say the Church of England lacks mystery, and that compared with religions like Buddhism, it seems much too straightforward.

The first thing to say in response to such allegations, of course, is that the Church of England is not a religion. It is an organisation designed to promote faith. You may say it is designed rather badly for this purpose, but I couldn’t possibly comment.

Recently, however, I became involved in the welcoming of a new vicar to our parish, and I became even more aware than usual that the Church of England is much more mysterious than the casual observer might think.

Evidence: we were welcoming a vicar, but we didn’t say that. No, he was being instituted and inducted. These are hard words to remember. When explaining what was happening in the days beforehand I kept catching myself saying that he was being installed or even, occasionally, committed or enthroned.

Technically – and there is a lot of technical stuff in the Church of England – he was instituted by the Bishop, who is Right Reverend, and inducted by the Archdeacon, who is merely Venerable. I say “merely”, but I may be doing her a disservice. I don’t know.

She has the power to place the incumbent in his stall. I am not making this up: this happened towards the end of the service. It was called a stall, but it looked more like a chair to me.

Who is the incumbent? I hear you ask. It is the vicar again, and he is actually the incumbent of the benefice. At the same time he is the parish priest, though not a rector. If it were a self-supporting church, he would be a rector, but as it is supported by the diocese, he is a vicar. I hope you’re following this.

I suppose I should mention the episcopal seal and the Oath of Canonical Obedience. The former is an endangered species often seen off the North Norfolk coast, and the latter is what you say when faced with superior firepower.

That may not be quite right, but you get the idea. In the Church of England it doesn’t matter if you don’t know exactly what’s happening as long as you’re prepared to go along with it. This tends to attract the right kind of people.