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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company provides global satellite communi...

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Ashdown Group: HR Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen