Thursday, March 08, 2007


Pew, what a scorcher: gay schism startles Speaker Simon Hoggart Tuesday March 6, 2007 The Guardian Questions to Stuart Bell, the MP for Middlesbrough who represents the church commissioners in parliament, come round every month. The atmosphere in the chamber subtly changes. There is a hush. The sunlight splashes into the chamber and onto the woodwork as if through stained glass. It takes little imagination to hear the faint sound of organ music, to see the floral offerings on the despatch box. Normally the questions are routine, about funding for church restoration or pensions for retired clergy. Very rarely, there is a small controversy. One was about whether bishops should have their own chauffeurs, or be obliged to drive themselves - whether with the help of SatNav or divine guidance (£249.99 from Halfords) was not clear. But normally nothing disturbs the marmoreal calm. Yesterday however was different. Chris Bryant, a gay Labour MP and former vicar, asked how much it had cost to send the archbishops of Canterbury and York to the Anglican bishops' conference in Dar es Salaam last month. This was the gathering meant to prevent the church's expected schism over the ordination of gay clergy. A compromse was reached, but, as we were to learn, it did not satisfy Mr Bryant. For what it's worth, it turned out that Cantuar's trip cost £2,094, while Ebor came in at a pricier £2,866. This was not, however, the point of Mr Bryant's question. He was furious. It was as if the vicar had asked if anyone knew any just cause or impediment, and someone at the back of the church had started yelling, "Yes, stop! She is married to me!" 'It is particularly depressing," he said, loudly, "that the two British archbishops chose to side with the fundamentalist BIGOTS from other parts of the Anglican communion, rather than representing the ordinary faith of most Anglicans in this country, who are entirely tolerant and decent!" A great "whoooh!" went up, slightly shocked and a little camp. No one was supposed to talk like that. The Speaker was startled. He told Mr Bryant that he should not stray from his question, which was about the costs, not the content of the meeting. But he was not half as cross as Mr Bell. The money had been well invested and well spent, he said. "If he wanted to talk about bigotry and extremism, he could not have done better than he did today!" That was the cue for another "whooo!" Contrary to what Mr Bryant said, the conference had had a good result because it produced an agreed communique on the subject of gay bishops. Mr Bell, who I am sure sounds pious when he is abusing the ref at a Middlesbrough match, concluded "blessed are the peacemakers". Mr Bryant sat on his pew - sorry, bench - fuming. I hoped he would - condemn Mr Bell's reply as a load of old cassocks, but the discussion had moved on.