Media Types: Go to church? Good heavens, he's too busy doing God's PR: The radio vicar

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The Independent Online
TUNE INTO any local radio station before 7am on weekdays or 9am on a Sunday and you will hear the radio vicar, writes Paulinus Barnes. On weekdays he is limited to a 90-second 'thought for the day' (or 'Godslot'), modelled on the Radio 4 original.

The rule for this is: 60 seconds talking about the day's news, followed by the key phrase: 'And isn't God a little bit like that?' In the next 27 seconds the radio vicar's task is to work in as many of the following words as possible, preferably (but not necessarily) in an intelligible order: love, joy, peace, hope, harmony, community, society, values and 'in a very real sense'.

On a Sunday, the radio vicar often has a two-hour programme of religious news and views, interspersed with a selection from the Songs of Praise compilation album. The programme is called Sunday Best, Face to Faith or Sunday Matters. He is clear about his aim in life: it is to put God on the world's agenda.

You'll find him in the Church of England yearbook listed as the Diocesan Communications Director, but communicating with him is never easy. 'Hi] This is Rob. I'm sorry I'm not by the phone right now, but if you need to speak urgently, you can reach me on my mobile.'

The answering machine (at least one, usually two) and the mobile phone are two essential accessories of the radio vicar. He is invariably clad in black leather jacket, light grey clerical dress and loafers.

There are five people to whom the radio vicar always refers by their first names. These are George (otherwise known as 'the arch') and Ruth, Walter, Damian and Andrew (also known as the four archdeacons of Fleet Street, or the religious affairs correspondents of the posh but Godless press). If our hero is ever quoted in the national papers, he is never mentioned by name, but referred to as a spokesman for the Bishop of X.

The radio vicar comes into his own with local papers. Last year he was on the front pages of 12 in his diocese when he shaved off his beard in a fund-raising stunt for the Church Urban Fund. For the moment, of course, radio vicars are all men - a situation that may change next year when the Church of England decides to ordain women, most of whom will have to find some other method of fund-raising.

In the past 12 months the woman question has propelled the nation's radio vicars out of the Godslot ghetto and on to mainstream news bulletins. They have had to be careful to avoid jargon in this arena, but it is not easy. Flying bishops, the Roman option, the priesting of women and alternative ecclesiastical oversight - all are phrases that trip happily off their tongues.

One place you are unlikely to encounter the radio vicar is in church. He's far too busy for that sort of thing.