This article is taken from the April 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.
Colin Godley’s extra-curricular career began in a small way with an invitation to contribute a weekly column entitled “View from the Pew” to his local newspaper.
He is dimly aware that he is not a happy man
His parish lies in one of the remoter parts of Norfolk. Deducing that a rural theme would be appropriate, Colin used this newfound platform to address such topics as “God in the hedgerows”, the condition of the church belfry and his wife’s chances in the village pancake race. There were a few letters from readers, but not many.
The pace of his hitherto sedate and unremarkable life moved up a gear when he discovered that St Wedekind’s had been chosen to stage the BBC Songs of Praise Nativity service.
Two hundred people attended — ten times the usual congregation for Evensong — and Colin, remembering his occasional appearances for the Cambridge Footlights twenty years ago, had the bright idea of borrowing a donkey from a farmer friend for the life-size crib. A photograph of him blessing this animal appeared in the Daily Telegraph.
All that was three years ago. In the interim, a calendar previously filled with Parish Council meetings and pub lunches with the Rural Dean has broken out into a rash of media engagements. A certain kind of radio religious spot cannot get enough of Colin’s thoughtful yet boyishly expressed analyses of God’s relevance to an increasingly secular age and his views on the professional atheists (Richard Dawkins and A.C. Grayling are “clever men” yet “sadly misguided”, he politely maintains.)
Colin knows that it would be churlish to complain of this unlooked-for celebrity. Attendances at St Wedekind’s are up. His bishop approves and there is even talk of his hosting a Radio Four documentary about the history of clerical vestments.
And yet, out on his daily round in the back-lanes of Lower Gridling-on-the Water, or packed into the early-morning taxi that takes him to the local BBC station to make a down-the-line contribution to Today programme debates about religious education in primary schools, he is dimly aware that he is not a happy man.
Part of this unease lies in a faint suspicion that, however great the civility extended to him and gratifying the fees, he is there on sufferance, employed because radio needs pontificating yet safely uncontroversial clergymen and his face happens to fit. But another reason stems from straightforward personal guilt.
When gathered together, the local clerics sometimes amuse themselves by asking each other how many of the Ten Commandments they happen to have broken. Colin’s, alas, is the tenth: the injunction not to covet.
Secretly, he pines to ascend to the stratospheric levels occupied by the Revs Richard Coles and Kate Botley — both of them grievously over-exposed, he sometimes complains, and urgently in need of that quiet word from Archbishop Welby that would send them back to some much-needed parish work.
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