The Press Saturday, October 11th 1997
"Yes, you can be a Christian and blow someone's head off" proclaimed the Daily Telegraph, in a headline to its hilarious interview with Frank Collins, a former SAS man who has graduated to the thrills of parochial ministry. Actually, he has not quite made it all the way there, since he has only just left the army, where he was serving as a chaplain, after publishing a memoir of his earlier life in the SAS. But the fresh insights he will bring to parochial visiting techniques will surely make him welcome in any parish that is interested in maximum outreach: he was, his publishers keep telling us, the first man to storm into the Iranian embassy. His description, in the Sunday Times, which is serialising his book, of his preparations for that is worth quoting: "There are three magazines on the left leg for my sub-machinegun. I wear my pistol low, above my right knee. I've watched a lot of cowboy movies and we're agreed, me and Wyatt Earp, that the best place to wear your pistol holster for a quick draw is low on the thigh.
"For my next trick I pull the fireman's axe out of the bag. It has a small wooden handle which fits my palm nicely. I wear this on the other leg. Then the body armour, a ceramic plate which fastens with big Velcro straps at the front. On top of this goes the plastic waistcoat. The pockets clip on and I slip in a few grenades and snap them on. Then the knife. It's a primitive survival weapon but sometimes we have to get primitive. The hood now, black. I pull it back until stand-to. Last on are the gloves. Thin, green, leather. We all love our aviators' gloves."
Now that's what I call the full armour of God.
Mr Collins told Victoria Combe "Many men are alienated by the image of 'gentle Jesus meek and mild'. Jesus was a great guy who took everyone head on." Not surprising, really, if He dressed like his followers in the SAS.
Continuing this promising new way of looking at the priesthood, the Sunday Times also had an article on wives beaten up by "vicars": this contained one woman who, thoughhappy to admit she had been beaten, "declined to talk about what went on in the bedroom" — I like the way it is assumed that we, or the newsdesk, would want to know that Christopher Morgan had asked; and another who was more co-operative: she told the paper that "He'd have his hands around my neck when love-making I suffered rape which finally broke me. He also marked my body in a foul way."
"When she discussed the matter with an archdeacon," the story continues, "he dismissed her complaint, saying her husband appeared to behave normally." On would like to know which Archdeacon, and why he said this, even if it might have been the phone call too far that spoils a perfectly good story.
In America, Christian manhood has been causing its own stir, that doesn't seem to have involved killing, raping or beating anybody up at all. The Promise Keepers' March in Washington, which brought around three quarters of a million men to the city to pray in public, was covered in all the broadsheets, with varying degrees of sympathy. To judge from the coverage, more people came to weep than to pray. The Daily Telegraph had a triumphalist op-ed: "Commentators struggled to understand what the massive rally portended: despite the evidence, they cannot quite rid themselves of the idea that only cranks, fools and losers can be Christians The Promise keepers have brought home to those who would like to deny it that there are tens of millions of people who are intelligent, educated and decent — and who choose Christianity as their guide. They are fair and, broadly speaking, egalitarian. They believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but they do not think they need seek these things in secular Utopia.
"This is a religious revival, but it is also, perhaps, a turning of the social tide. And that is why the mocking despots of secular Liberalism must despair."
The Guardian seemed still closer to mocking that despairing in its account of the march; Jo Coles had found a Texan pastor there who had worked out a script for Promise Keepers to use when reassuming their headship of the family: "Honey, I've made a terrible mistake. I've given you my role. I gave up leading this family and I forced you to take my place. Now, I must reclaim that role. There can be no compromise here. If you are going to lead, you must lead." I suppose this speech is worth a try, even though the almost certain response to such a speech would be "anything you say, dear."
A degree of male leadership would no doubt be welcomed by the Rev Colin Gough, of Wolverhapmton, who was pictured in the Daily Telegraph the same day locked out of his own vestry by the organist, Miss Pamela Hodgson, who objected to the church's being shut as part of a reorganisation. Not only did she lock priest and the Archdeacon out for two hours, ringing the bells and playing the organ to drown out their importunities; when she finally opened the Vestry she stood on the steps for fifteen minutes, reading out an ode of her own composition to the condemned building. Then she admitted the clergy and congregation and took her place in the organ loft to play We love this place O God.