Bishop seeks unity as antidote to Verity

Glenda Cooper hears Bishop of Lincoln's words of love

As the Bishop of Lincoln prepared to preach his first sermon since his dean was acquitted of adultery, the church warden rose gravely at the start of the service. "I think we should mention the important events of the last few days," he said.

The congregation held its breath. "We should all congratulate Brian on the church float winning the town carnival yesterday." There was applause.

The tone of yesterday's service was set. The graveyard of All Saints, Maidstone, may have seen one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War, but the Dean of Lincoln's "public execution" failed to materialise. After the dean, the Very Reverend Brandon Jackson, was acquitted last week, he claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy by Church of England authorities. The bishop dismissed this as "complete nonsense".

Whatever Bishop Robert Hardy's private thoughts about his priest, he kept them to himself and concentrated on commemorating the 600th anniversary of All Saints, one of the largest English perpendicular churches.

The dean could take heart from the bishop's text in 1 Corinthians, which began: "For we are all partners working together for God." The bishop also spoke of "loving each other and persevering in our love. Part of such persevering is always allowing the other person to be himself."

Stability was his theme in a week when the Church's had been in doubt. Those intrigued by a Church of England feud should note that the theme of unity was emphasised with the hymn Thy Hand O Lord Has Guided, with it's refrain: "One church, one faith, one Lord."

After the service, the bishop said he was going away next weekend "to do some serious thinking about the future, how we can try to help matters move forward. "We ought to be setting some sort of example, holding differences together and working with them ... obviously there are particular differences between Brandon and myself."

He also hoped things would quieten down.

The main topic of conversation over coffee after the service was the cleaners' hard work in keeping the flower festival arrangements fresh. Verity Freestone didn't get a look in.

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