Friday, 29 August 2008

An End to Hostillities

Dear Alexander,

Several weeks have passed since last we spoke (in those days charged with promise of foreign travel and longed-for repose), on that subject so pressing to us both.

There was a real end-of-term feel to the proceedings at St John's that Sunday, the last before our annual recess. "God goes on holiday," you once quipped, mischievously, as if religion may be subverted to the insistent demands of our modern, busy lives. "Lord dismiss us with thy blessing," wasn't on the hymn-board that day, but I felt myself transported just the same, back to my old school chapel, a fake-Gothic Victorian pile poised above Sydney Harbour, among spreading Moretan Bay figs, we boys all herded there gleefully under the Head's scary, gimlet eye.

The church organist (and choirmaster) marshalled for us the most sublime musical accompaniment to Sung Eucharist. With a thrilling trumpet solo, and impossibly beautiful Panis Angelicus, it all added up to a damned fine show, if you'll pardon the expression. The Cathedral Dean preached a jaunty sermon, comparing the woman of Canaan to a pushy mum in a TV talent show, and the apostles' angst to his own status anxiety at one of those City livery dinners, where you measure yourself by the seating plan. Here were more jokes than our mainly septuagenarian congregation are accustomed to, but no worse for that. Our regular band of dinner ladies served a celebratory lunch, which we steadily munched our way through in the pews. You will be well-pleased with the outcome.

I mean of course the parish room, your proposed modern stick-on addition (though dressed in traditional garb), to our majestic Wren lantern church. I am aware that you are anxious to see this project through to completion, after twenty years or more of debate and indecision in the PCC. I never knew a vicar who didn't want to leave his mark; my own brother, who I love and admire, modernised a beautiful, original Dutch colonial church in Indonesia, filling in the sloping, wooden-louvered verandas all round with rendered brick. His congregation swelled, but at the cost, it would seem, of architectural heritage.

I wish to urge caution. You've cast your lot with Matthew, energetic young churchwarden, old Harovian, and hardworking civil engineer, who is ramming through the project with the diocesan architects, and condescends to brief us only at bi-monthly meetings, where he bridles and rears up at the least little questioning of detail. Is Matthew too close to the architect? He is certainly dynamic, and gets things done, but the fellow clearly has no interest in sharing responsibility.

It's more than I can stand, as I think you already know. You are frightened of upsetting Matthew, who seemingly has a febrile, uncertain temperament. You think him a demigod, and infallible in that buttoned-up, Establishment kind of way. He has the advantage of both of us, Alex, status-wise.

I am no better than a lowly builder, yet have considerable expertise with old buildings. I should love to be consulted on the parish room, but can't see it ever happening somehow. I do not want to be forever sniping from the sidelines.

I must bow out from the PCC, and my negligible role there, though not, I hope, from our charming, amiable church. I leave with some small pleasure and satisfaction at having done a positive good. By some strange miracle, I did manage to rescue you from your architects' lunatic scheme to fit toilets in the front entrance hall (though not without first locking horns very memorably with Matthew once or twice).

I trust our friendship will continue unabated. Our family are all grateful for your support over the years: for the most fantastic Sunday school; for the christening of our youngest; as well as for the patient, careful preparation you gave for our two older children's eventual confirmation. I look forward to many more celebrations and happy rites of passage to come!

Yours affectionately, Peter.