Wednesday, 2 March 2016

A Guide to an Anglican Interregnum

Oh, when somebody referring to a nearby parish referred to the "interregnum", did it take me back. I remembered that time, between the Extremely Primitive Methodists and the Beaker Folk, when I worshipped in a Church of England church in that mythical state.

For those who don't recognise the word, an "Interregnum" is the word the C of E uses informally for the time "between the reigns" of two ministers. It is a liminal time, like that at New Year. There's a time in between the two - the old vicar's gone, but it's not the new. Certain actions are necessary between the reigns, which I will explain for you now.

The Scouring of the Church

In a parallel to the removal of yeast at Passover before the time in the desert, all traces of the last minister must be removed from the building.

You must understand that, as long as the minister is there, anything they leave lying around is treated as sacred. If the vicar constantly leaves their printed-out sermons in the pulpit or laying around the vestry, they will have been gathered up and preserved somewhere on the assumption that, once the vicar has got them all back, they'll be bound into a kidskin book or something. The minute they're gone, this illusion is shattered. The shreds and tatters of seven years of theological reflection are taken to the north side of the churchyard and ceremonially burnt.

The Establishment of Control

At some point in the interregnum, someone is going to want to grab some power. They will decide that at this time in the desert, God is raising up a prophet like Moses to guide his people. They may well use the word "liminal".

Of course, they must be stopped. To do this two groups will be appointed: the Watchers and the Enforcers. The Watchers - a shadowy unofficial sub-committee of the PCC - will watch out for the trouble makers. Once they are identified, the Enforcers will subtly remove them from active parish involvement. This might mean organising the PCC to vote against anything they suggest; letting their tyres down to stop them making it to meetings; or hacking their computers to stop them emailing the bishop. But whatever they do, the Enforcers must not run the self-appointed prophet out of town on a rail. Not unless they really need to.

Moderating the Lay Reader

The parish Reader will normally fall into one of two categories. If they are terrified of having to preach more, they are the sort of modest example that is needed. Encourage them to preach more. If they start arguing that it might be better just to get retired priests in once a month, and start using the phrases "Service of the Word" and "Creative Liturgy", get hold of the list of retired clergy, fast.

Which brings us onto...

The Retired Clergy

Increasingly, and thankfully, the people who keep vast chunks of the C of E functioning, particularly in the parts of urban England which are nice to retire to.

But retired clergy have a kind of spidey-sense which enables them to smell a vacancy at 20 miles. Indeed, even as the first thought that it's time for pastures new crosses the incumbent's mind, a retired clergy will be on the phone to the local undertaker offering any help they can give.

The Undoing of Things That Have been Done

The Big Book of Rules says you can't make any changes to the forms of service or church ordering during an interregnum. But the Traditions of the Elders say that if you are just putting things back as they were before, that's OK. So altars that were pushed against walls will be pulled away again. Tables that were pulled away from walls will be pushed back, and attacked with heavy-duty bolts. Common Worship pamphlets will join the vicar's old sermons on the fire, to be replaced by the old BCPs. It will be agreed that not using full robes was only ever an experiment.

The Ageing of the Board of Past Vicars

The outgoing vicar's name will have been added to the board on the south wall at a point about halfway through their reign. The last four years it will have shone like new gold alongside the faded names above. Now, the Diocesan Tarnisher will be called in to make the recently departed minister as one with the priests of the past.

The Parish Profile

The PCC will get together to decide that what they really need is a minister who combines the caring of Florence Nightingale, the inspirational preaching of John the Baptist, the skills in children's work of Mary Poppins and the evangelistic powers of St Paul.

Canonization

The interregnum ends when after a suitable period the new minister - long awaited and prayed for - arrives. At their first few PCCs, it will be discovered that the previous incumbent had the caring of Florence Nightingale, the inspirational preaching of John the Baptist, the skills in children's work of Mary Poppins and the evangelistic powers of St Paul. And would never have countenanced any of the things the new vicar is suggesting. The Churchwardens will remember all the things they have returned to the former places over the last eighteen months. And keep their counsel.

2 comments :

  1. I wish someone had run our prophet out of town on a rail ... it was a long interregnum too.

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  2. 'Interregnum' - a weasly word that subliminally suggests to vicars that they are monarchs. 'Vacancy' - that's what you want.

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