A mine of clergy confidentiality
It was about a year ago when I received a strange request. The publishers of The Fence – a new magazine that confirms the truth that rumors of the death of the print have been exaggerated and are aimed specifically at my late millennial generation – wanted to publish a quarterly article consisting of an imaginary spiritual diary of an inner city pastor . Could I write a piece like that?
The commissioning editors sent me some of the articles next to which this set insight into the clerical routine would appear: a guide to the underground dance tribes of London, a wonderfully bitter abolition of male dating behavior, nervous and inspired pieces of light. crit. – not at first glance the usual bedfellows for a report about the daily frolics of a priest.
However, the editors pointed out that as young people in central London who advocated secular tendencies, they saw faith at work every day and that the new atheist's narrative, which was loved by a certain part of previous generations, appeared "performative and boring" to them.
AlamyPortrait of Parson Woodforde in Weston Longueville, Norfolk (1806) by Samuel Woodforde RA
With an assignment so anchored in the currents of modernity, it only seemed natural to first turn to the past.
Although I am not (yet) an author of one, I have long been a consumer and admirer of office diaries. When I first recognized a calling, a wise priest told me that the only books worth reading as an act of Lent were the Bible and Parson Woodforde's diary.
The Weston Longville Rector's diary, dating from the late 18th century, is primarily known as a source of information about Georgian family life and is astonishing evidence of the good pastor's ability to eat and drink in large quantities. But it also offers some tender moments that show a good and holy priest under the shaky and worldly facade.
James Woodforde was particularly keen to visit prisoners and offered as much comfort as possible to those who were doomed to widespread executions during this period. Here he stands in stark contrast to another clerical diary writer, the Reverend Horace Salusbury Cotton, who recorded numerous cruel details of executions in his diary in the course of his work as chaplain at Newgate Prison in the early to mid-19th century. He was so macabre in his sermon that he actually received a warning from the prison authorities – little known for their desire to create a positive work environment – and was asked to mitigate things.
"Writing diaries is caused by several things: the desire to keep records that can be useful later and to put them down on paper that cannot be communicated to a mentor … all sorts of reasons, but basically it works loneliness. ”So wrote the prolific diary keeper Kenneth Williams.
It is possible to pursue various motivations in the keeping of clergymen: from wanting to show the pace of social change, however icy, even in the most remote parishes, to venting frustrations that serve as a priest visible symbol of godliness cannot be expressed anywhere else.
Of course, clerical diary writers may not have realized exactly how important their observations might be, however small they were at the time. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the pastor Francis Kilvert's quill and a diary with observations of the spiritual life of the late 19th century.
AlamyFarmland near Clyro, Powys, where Francis Kilvert was a pastor from 1865 to 1872
Kilvert was a pastor in the border area between England and Wales, this mystical hinterland that seems like a natural place for priests and poets. Accordingly, much of his writing is appropriately flowery. When a neighboring pastor refused to give him permission to marry his daughter, he responded with a letter: "It was as if the sun had gone down from the sky."
Despite a persistent editorial process involving a campfire (fairly to the arsonist, his niece, it must be pointed out that one of Kilvert's hobbies was bathing naked and his writing about some of his parishioners would no doubt now fall under the diocesan protection commissioner), the diary that survives , is a must for anyone who wants a snapshot of the Thomas Hardy era.
BIG upheavals loved by this strange group of people we call historiographers are recorded by the pen. The diaries of John Longe, long-time Vicar of Coddenham in Suffolk, are annoyed by constant disputes over deposit payments and tithing: troublesome for him, but invaluable to historians who are studying the impact of the second agricultural revolution.
The notes of Sir Christopher Trychay, pastor of Morebath in Devon between 1530 and 1580, became the basis for Eamon Duffy's masterly account of the English reformation The Voices of Morebath. They paint a picture, not only of the fascinating details of English village life (many of which remain unchanged, as rural clergymen will know today), but also of the great religious-political changes that were taking place that changed the English's identity Church in this country forever.
More recently, Bishop Edward Hicks, who held Lincoln's seat at the beginning of the 20th century, was an isolated Anglican voice against the onslaught of the war in 1914. His diaries reveal a moving account of a man standing next to an appeal grappling with deeply rooted pacifist beliefs about leadership in a nation at war.
More recently, the phenomenal success of Adam Kay's This is Going to Hurt, which is supposed to be a junior doctor's actual diaristic observations, shows that the public's love of peering into the private journals of others is undiminished.
I would dare the clergy to experience at least as strange events as medical doctors in their daily lives. So I was determined to make the fence commission so true that it was a form of diary inspired by the past, and I wondered if there were modern Woodfordes or Trychays or even, God forbid, cottons between the sides of Crockford's Clerical Directory lurked.
I turned to Twitter, the medium in which people are usually more than happy to share their innermost thoughts, however dark they may be. However, this turned out to be strangely reserved. A few clergymen said that they had kept diaries – at least one had started this recently to document the strange era we now live in and to show that in the Covid-19 era the spirit of Sir Christopher Tychay was alive further.
However, the number of self-identifying diary writers among the clergy turned out to be tiny. I can only give possible explanations for this: Perhaps the office diary is really a dead genre, buried under the tyranny of iCalls, planned phone calls and 24-hour availability. If you sometimes write multiple sermons in a week, why should you use a day off to put more pen on paper?
Maybe it was subsumed and replaced by the blog. Or maybe it is alive, but it remains so these days when the Damoclean dangers are too clear to express its opinion under common tenure, the one Sancta Sanctorum in which the clergy could record what they really think to what they are congregation or archdeacon or congregation want they thought.
If this last reason turns out to be correct, the clergyman's diary remains untouchable and I have no desire to publish the contents of such tightly guarded inner courtyards abroad.
That service can be a lonely place is a truism. But if, as our carry-on star mentioned earlier, keeping diaries can alleviate loneliness – even the strange clerical loneliness that results from almost constant activity – then perhaps a revival of this strange genre is due.
So to go back to that weird job from a year ago. I decided to be careful and turn the tone of pure imagination into a diary writer. This is how "the diary of an urban pastor was born – true and influential vignettes from the life of Reverend JJ Cowan, Rector of St. Ewold & # 39; s, Stoke Newington, from which the reader gains an insight into the state of the Church of England in can the just capital of this nation ”.
ALAMYA regency scene from Newgate Prison. A priest on the far left waits while a prisoner is tied up before the execution. An illustration from Pierce Egan's life in London
The title suggests that it is an imagination; and yet the clerical stereotype of the well-meaning, somewhat otherworldly pastor still has cultural appeal, which, I would suggest, is partly due to the remaining idea that the clergymen write down their hopes, prayers, private fears, and the public joys in a diary .
And although it is a great tragedy that we will never know what Parson Woodforde thought of quinoa, the clerical diary mind has not yet completely disappeared.
The Reverend Fergus Butler-Gallie is Assistant Curator of Our Lady and St. Nicholas, Liverpool. A parish priest's diary can be read at www.the-fence.com.