Give that Father Harper a free transfer

Churches are like football teams; whatever their colours, they play the same game. Paul Handley deplores the testimony of an Anglican priest who has turned to the Orthodox Church.

Newcastle United play in black and white stripes. Orthodox priests are the ones with beards. It has to be said right away that these are unrelated facts: the Catholicos of Armenia is not thinking of signing up a team for the Premiership. They are instead an aide-memoire to two people who have come to my notice this week.

The first is seen off pretty quickly. Martin Wharton, a not very noticeable bishop in south London, has just been appointed the next Bishop of Newcastle. In his little publicity spiel, he said he was a keen football fan: "I very much look forward to supporting Newcastle United." So farewell, then, Wimbledon, or wherever it is that Bishop Wharton has been gracing the directors' box. Keen football supporters just don't do that sort of thing. It's the equivalent of announcing, "Well, mother, I've got another job at the other end of the country, so I'll be supporting another mother from now on."

Mothers come into the story of the second figure, Fr Michael Harper, who has just written a book about his journey, at the age of 64, from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy. Harper writes in his introduction that he tries to avoid "conversion mentality": "I do guard against being over- enthusiastic about the Church I have joined and hypercritical about the one I have left." So is this breathtaking, or what:

What about the Church of England? Was that

not "home"? I had a struggle over this for a long time . . . Then one day I found a way of adjusting my thinking about this dilemma. I saw the Church of England as my foster-mother. She had looked after me with great devotion until I found my real mother. Now I had "come home" to where I was always meant to be, where my real mother was.

Well, sod off then, Michael Harper. I generally lodge calm, tolerant, ecumenical feelings in my breast for people who move from one Church to another. The seven former Anglican priests who will be prostrating themselves before Cardinal Hume in Westminster Cathedral today - the latest of the 90 or so to be re-priested in the Roman Catholic Church - excite no animosity in me. But then, those who convert (or "vert", as the Church Times would once have called it, short for "pervert") are usually persuaded to keep their mouths shut, for changing teams is a very personal decision, and it does no harm to be a bit shamefaced about it. But not so, Fr Harper. I find that any tolerance I might have had vanishes with that cruel kick to the uterus; "foster-mother", indeed.

To gauge just how successful Fr Harper is at guarding against convert mentality, one need read no further than the title: The True Light (Hodder & Stoughton, pounds 7.99). And that's as far as one ought to read. As soon as the introductory proviso about being over-critical is over, off goes Harper, like a ferret up a trouser-leg.

The odd thing is, his criticisms of the Church of England read exactly like those of a newspaper columnist. As a former priest and cathedral canon, one might have expected his encounter with his old Church to have taken place at a deeper level than the knee-jerk headlines: the Myth of God Incarnate book, Bishop David Jenkins, the Crockford's Preface affair, the Anthony Freeman sacking, the ordination of women. Add gay priests to collect the set. But as anyone in the business knows, these are just media distractions, making little impact on the spiritual lives of ordinary Christians, least of all those in the charismatic evangelical tradition which was Harper's own. And if Harper's chief criticism of the Church of England is its sponge-like tolerance of unorthodox doctrine and practice, the activities of some of his fellow Charismatics have stretched that tolerance as far as any radical theologian.

I say that is the odd thing. But far odder are Harper's reasons for joining the Orthodox Church. Here is a list, as full as I can make it, of what he says he has discovered from his new mother: the importance of the eucharist and sacraments, the place of bishops, the importance of tradition alongside scripture, the centrality of the Trinity, calling priests "Father", church unity (within Orthodoxy? Tell that to the Ecumenical Patriarch), the Holy Spirit's role in baptism, the position of Mary as Mother of God, the communion of saints, church decoration, a concentration on incarnation, and icons.

I'll allow him icons, and, though he doesn't mention them, priests with beards. But what Harper doesn't seem to have realised is that he didn't have to traipse off to Antioch to find all that stuff: the church round the corner could just as easily have furnished him with the whole list. What he's done, in fact, is stumble upon ordinary common-or-garden Anglo- Catholicism.

Churches are like football teams. They might wear slightly different strips, but they kick the same sorts of beliefs and practices around, whether their grounds are in the north or in the east. Give that Harper a free transfer.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all