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There is another way

John Papworth: The Shoplifting Vicar

Who is the Shoplifting Vicar?

Rev. John Papworth made the national news in 1999 when he was ticked off by the Church of England for preaching, to his congregation, that it was okay to steal from supermarkets if you were poor and hungry. Though much of the press treated his comments as 'beyond the pale' he struck a chord with many who are fed up with the supermarket consumer culture. John edits an excellent quarterly pamphlet, the 'Fourth World Review'. Here are some extracts.

Confessions of a Shop-Lifting Vicar

John Papworth

The saga of my clerical status within the Anglican Communion continues like a minor soap opera. The media furore featuring a ‘shop-lifting vicar’ made me world famous for five minutes and prompted the Archdeacon of Charing Cross to complain testily on the phone that I had ‘disrupted’ his entire weekend. You may well ask, as I did myself, ‘What is an archdeacon?’ And for that matter why have one attached to a railway station? Being very little acquainted with the niceties of clerical ranking in an ecclesiastical bureaucracy, unfortunately for me as it proved, I later gathered that the Venerable Dr W.M Jacob was effectively my ecclesiastical boss. I was also to discover in due course just why he is known as the archdeacon of arch-deviousness. After some deft, bureaucratic sleight-of-hand in declaring that since I was too late in applying for a licence to officiate, (an application which had never been required in my 14 years of unpaid service to the diocese), he would therefore not recommend me for one to the bishop, he has dallied me on a string. Letters of appeal tended to be sidetracked or to go unanswered until, just recently, a local press hack, scenting a story from the good man’s announcement that he would never, ever recommend me for a licence to officiate, enquired the reason for his ruling. This provoked a sudden volte-face. He denied making any such ruling but then proceeded to spell out the rule book in ways which would ensure, if he was around, that I would be kept out of action just as effectively. It would be a mistake to read overmuch personal animus in all this. In Trollope’s expansive, empire-building, and generally booming Victorian times a venerable archdeacon could have lived a fat, comfortable life and feel somehow he was a friend and ally of contemporary history. Today the chickens of that era have come home to roost with a vengeance. Some sort of moral lead is a yawning gulf in the world scene as the elements of the global crisis multiply and coagulate in ways suggesting that unless that lead in soon forthcoming the ship may well founder altogether. I am told that the musical needs of St Peter’s church in Rome were once served by a castrata choir; sometimes it seems to me the Anglican Church is now served by an ecclesiastical castrata. Absolutely nothing appears able to shake the moribund complacency of those who run it and the current leadership expresses all too clearly the price it is paying for generations of intellectual dishonesty. There is no open forthright debate on the challenge to its core beliefs mounted by modern astronomy, geology, biology and psychology; there is instead a rampant fever of spiritual cowardice running through its veins which leads it to pretend that the explosion of man’s understanding of his place in the universe has no relevance to its concerns and that the spiritual crisis generating the social and environmental disasters, now threatening to edge man off the page of history altogether, are things happening on another planet and of which it need have no more regard than for the craters on the moon. People of first-rate calibre have clearly abandoned it in droves and it appears now not to possess a single voice able or willing to speak with authority to challenge the diabolic forces which are wreaking the planet, our social structures and our prospects of progress. The third-raters who now infest it are not remotely members of a life-force which might give direction, inspiration, coherence or any kind of elevated moral sense to society at large; they are leeches in a sepulchre gorging on a corpse, ceasing to do so only to belch spite or to lapse into a coma of satiation. It does not matter that the foundations of their theology have been shattered by the mere expansion of human consciousness, for they do not believe it anyway; they do not act as though they believe and their general life-style repudiates what they presume to profess with all the insouciance of a pick-pocket pretending to study the stars. Onward Christian soldiers, whose labours may well be likened to the lilies of the field as they demonstrate all the alert-minded reforming zeal of a long-deceased blowfly. An army of well-paid and comfortably housed, middle-class misfits and spongers, with neither the talent, conscience, inspiration or humility to do more than batten on a social order their own moral cowardice is helping to destroy; they have made the Church a refugee camp of bourgeoisie drop-outs having about as much spiritual force as a chorus of catamites in a Columbian night club. When Mark Antony assured his listeners, "You are not wood, you are not stones, but men…" he was clearly not addressing a covey of Anglican clergyman. Water being not the only thing that finds its own level, our stipendiary clergy, far from being leaders are, like most of their congregations, followers. As such they see nothing wrong with a boardroom-promoted consumerist lifestyle which is poisoning the planet and wrecking social, cultural and ecological vandalism faster than any measure of it that can be made, and dear old Archdeacon Jacob, a portly, balding bachelor, who appears never to have missed a meal in his life, is simply another follower who thinks supermarkets are wonderful places which, to quote his own sub-literate economic views, ‘provide a wide choice of merchandise and create jobs.’ You may think my devious archdeacon is rather exceptional in displaying a concern for the major evils of our time with all the frenzy of a neutered tomcat having a nap in the sun, or a degree of intellectual curiosity about them demonstrating the energetic inquisitiveness of a geriatric occupant of an unopened bivalve, or of manifesting a staunchly robust moral backbone in dealing with them matching that of a stick of excessively stewed rhubarb, but you would be mistaken. Any giant religious organisation, which ceased to worry about its money and status in a mass society would soon cease to be giant. Its ostensible spiritual role is thus inevitably quite secondary to these worldly considerations, which is why as a moral structure its priesthood by and large (and of course there are notable exceptions), serves the function of worms in timber; despite the imposing clamour of the overwhelming evils of our time it has yet to learn that silence is not so much golden as yellow and manages to live a quiet, inoffensive life engaged with regular, devout altar antics, boring away in more senses than one until the fabric itself is spongy with rottenness as it manages generally to steer well clear of any suggestion of controversy, commitment or culpability. Its key words in relation to the affairs of the great world are compliance, acquiescence, passivity, non-contentiousness, deference, complicity, evasion and conformism. As a body they have transformed the church triumphant into the church somnolent and they now constitute collectively just about the most effective barrier to the advance of Christian beliefs that the wit of Old Nick himself might have devised. My archdeacon, far from being exceptional, is only too typical; he would no more dream of soiling his cloth by becoming embroiled in any of the major moral battles of our time than of selling Spanish onions in a street market. He no doubt agonises day and night on his prospects of becoming a bishop and in due course he will no doubt see his dreams realised; he is after all, ‘safe,’ sound, respectable, conformist, endlessly adaptable to the winds of the prevailing order. With his imposing bulk he will surely fill the ceremonial aspects of his role admirably. Third-rate people who are unable to see further then their noses are not uncommon and certainly not on the Episcopal bench, or why else is that bench part of the problem rather than an agent for its resolution? So I have no difficulty seeing him attired in cope and mitre, even if symbolism might be better served if instead of carrying a crosier to indicate the possibilities of his leadership role, he holds aloft a knife and fork

News as Political Soap Opera

John Papworth

During my wartime service days I once heard an airman say of another, "Trouble with that chap he’s got too much of what the cat licks its arse with." Now the grammar of that observation may not be impeccable and the image it projects may lack something of the more exquisite degrees of refinement that betokens civilised discourse, but it is surely a punch point which well and truly drives home, and it is one which comes to mind whenever I find myself listening to the Prime Minister on television. Nothing surely is more indicative of the decline of politics, unless it is the dwindling numbers of those who vote, than the performance of ‘Prime Minister’s Question Time.’ The idea itself is more than faintly ludicrous. A man with a cabinet full of ministers controlling the different departments of state is put up every week to answer questions relating to all of them. So some obscure backbencher will ask a question about the closure of a cottage hospital in Never-Combe Underwallop, or another about the Post Office closure in Tooting Broadway and the Prime Minister is supposed to be fully apprised and conversant with the lot. Perhaps it is all part anyway of the tragic-comedy of over-centralised government, but to see such matters posted in the same slot as foreign affairs, war and armament problems, the burgeoning crisis of the European Economic Conspiracy, is to see affairs of state reduced to farce. It becomes even more farcical from the way the chief characters perform: Leader of the Opposition: "Will the Prime Minister tell us if the Minister of Defence in saying something or other is speaking for the government?" Prime Minister: "We cannot reply to a proposal until a proposal is made." This exchange was repeated three times. The Prime Minister was answering a question his opponent had not asked and the latter had apparently neither the wit not the verbal resource to assert as much. And talking of verbal resource was there ever a case of quantity being the enemy of quality than the way a torrent of words tends to stream from our leaders or would-be leaders, conveying so little content? None of them seem to have any real command of language and one wonders if any of them has read a work of literature in their lives. Inevitably the affair is stage-managed with, inter-alia, planted questions. Backbencher: "Will the Prime Minister agree that the record of the government in the matter of economic development (or crime prevention, or health measures or concern for pensioners etc, etc.) is one of greater benefit to the country than any other in all our history." Prime Minister: "I am most grateful to the Honourable Member for Sleazington for reminding the house just how wonderful the government’s record is in this matter. Since the record is already perfect it will be difficult to improve upon it but we shall do our best to make it even more perfect" I sometimes have a vision of myself up to the same sort of malarkey in the same setting: Mr Etherden (Hon. Member for Rye): "Mr Speaker, will the Editor assure the house that the high standards which have made Fourth World Review the most clear-sighted, well-written, powerfully influential and the most essential reading for well-informed policy formulation that there has ever been in the history of journalism, will be maintained?" The Editor: "I am most grateful to the Honorable Member for reminding the house, and indeed the country, and for that matter the entire world, of my modest achievements and will do my utmost to see the standards established will be maintained." Anne Fealdman (Hon. Member for Finchley S.E): "Has the Editor considered the advisability of raising the annual minimum subscription rate of Fourth Review to £1,000,000 in view of the high quality of its contents and the need for free copies to be sent to all prisoners, bishops, journalists and others?" The Editor: "I am most grateful for the Honourable Lady’s observation and whilst I completely agree with the justice and fair-trading standards of her proposal I think at this juncture that it may be somewhat premature. However, I will give the matter a great deal of consideration, contemplation, meditation, pondering, reflection and even thinking."

Millennium Prayer

Lord make me an instrument of the war against evil,

Where there is vandalism against Thy creation
Let me campaign to stop it,

Where there is sabotage of Thy genetic ordainings,
Let me fight like hell to prevent it.

Where there is conspiracy to dominate Thy world with boardroom greed,
Let me join with others to wage an unremitting struggle to oppose it.

Where giant political forces combine with money makers and pocket liners to assume control of community concerns such as education, health, commerce, banks, law and order and work,
Let me be quick to affirm the overriding need for such matters to be restored to local community life so that Thy moral laws may prevail.

Where there is passivity, deference and conformism to the powers of darkness which are degrading society and its individual members, let me be a powerful witness to oppose them.

Divine master, grant that I may not so much seek to live a quiet life as to be in the vanguard of those who would enhance life, not so much to grab as to give, not to evade my social obligations as to shoulder them, not to be afraid of power as to be imbued with courage with others to control it for worthy ends.

For it is in striving to act with love that we affirm love, and in devoting ourselves to noble causes we are redeemed, and in giving ourselves utterly to the service of truth, love and beauty in shared, fully democratic communities we rise to the life immortal.

John Papworth

Fourth World Review no.97 - 1999

Not John P but wonderful bit of writing by someone!?!? who?

Tuesday, 3 June, 2003

A sixties childhood

According to today’s regulators and bureaucrats, those of us who were kids in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s probably shouldn’t have survived.

Our baby cots were covered with brightly coloured lead-based paint which was promptly chewed and licked.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, or latches on doors or cabinets and it was fine to play with tin pans.

When we rode our bikes, we wore no helmets, just flip flops and fluorescent noisemakers on our wheels.

As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags.

Riding in the passenger seat was a treat.

We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle - tasted the same.

We ate dripping sandwiches, bread and butter pudding and drank fizzy cordial with sugar in it, but we were never overweight because we were always outside playing.

We shared one drink with four friends, from one bottle or can and no one actually died from this.

We would spend hours building go-carts out of scraps and then went top speed down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the drain at the end of the street a few times, we learned to solve the problem.

We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back before it got dark. No one was able to reach us all day and no one minded.

We did not have Playstations or X-Boxes, no video games at all. No Foxtel, no videotape movies, no surround sound, no mobile phones, no personal computers, and no Internet chat rooms.

We had friends - we went outside and found them.

We played totem tennis and street cricket, and sometimes that ball really hurt.

We fell out of trees, got cut and broke bones and teeth, and there were no lawsuits. They were accidents. We learnt not to do the same thing again.

We had fights, punched each other hard and got black and blue - we learned to get over it.

We walked to friend’s homes.

We made up games with sticks and tennis balls and ate live stuff, and although we were told it would happen, we did not have very many eyes out, nor did the live stuff live inside us forever.

We rode bikes in packs of 7 and wore our coats by only the hood.

Our actions were our own. Consequences were expected.

The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke a law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law. Imagine that!

These generations have produced some of the best risk-takers and problem solvers and inventors, ever. The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas.

We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned how to deal with it all.

And you’re one of them. You grew up in a time before lawyers and politicians regulated our lives, for our own good. Congratulations! (If you aren’t old enough, thought you might like to read about us).

[source not known]