15 January 2014

BETJEMAN: Anglo-Catholic Congresses

You might find it interesting to compare this with the poem I recently printed, by Eric Mascall; they describe the same Anglo-Catholic culture from the point of view of an insider but, in my view, they are two quite different poems by two quite different writers.

We, who remember the Faith, the grey-headed ones,
   Of those Anglo-Catholic Congresses swinging along,
Who heard the South Coast salvo of incense-guns
   And surged to the Albert Hall in our thousands strong
   With 'extreme' colonial bishops leading in song;

We, who remember, look back to the blossoming May-time
   On ghosts of servers and thurifers after Mass,
The slapping of backs, the flapping of cassocks, the play-time*,
   A game of Grandmother's steps on the vicarage grass -
   "Father, a little more sherry. I'll fill your glass."

We recall the triumph, that Sunday after Ascension,
  When our Protestant suffragan suffered himself to be coped -
The SYA** and the Scheme for Church Extension** -
   The new diocesan's not as 'sound' as we'd hoped,
   And Kensit threatens and has Sam Gurney poped?

Yet, under the Travers baroque, in a limewashed whiteness,
   The fiddle-back vestments a-glitter with morning rays,
Our Lady's image, in multiple-candled brightness,
   The bells and banners - those were the waking days*
   When Faith was taught and fanned to a golden blaze.
*Ah, the play-time and the waking days. You have to go to the Ordinariate now for that sort of thing.
**Can anyone explain these references?
ADDENDUM Simon Cotton tells me that SYA means the Seven Years Association and refers me to Ivan Clutterbuck's Marginal Catholics. A junior branch of the Church Union, founded by Peter Winckworth  at the Anglo-Catholic Congress of 1933, and with its own chapel (of the Ascension) in the Shrine at Walsingham. Members undertook obedience to the precepts of the Church until the next ACC, scheduled for 1940. So the mis-en-scene of the poem is pinned down to 1933-1940.


Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

Betjeman is always a delight.
I have just finished reading "Lift High The Cross" by John Gunstone about the Congresses - a fascinating book.
I would love to have access to a time machine and travel back to those heady days :-)

Anonymous said...

The SYA is the Seven Years' Association, the young adults' wing of the Church Union (that I am sure of). I think the name refers to a pledge to remain a good spikey Anglo-Catholic from one's 18th birthday until one's 25th (that I am not 100% sure of, but more than 50%).

My late partner was a member at Durham University in the first years of the war, where is best friend who was what we would now term "sunny side of middle" referred to it disparagingly as the "Spiky Youths Association" which should give some idea of its character.

World War 2 damaged its structures and it never really recovered after the War.