Virgin Mary's `diary' attacked

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The Independent Online
THE REV David Wilbourne seemed to anticipate a panning for his colourfully modern story of the Virgin Mary. He secured the backing of heavyweights including the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Liverpool before writing A Virgin's Diary - a mix of the New Testament and Bridget Jones - which is due to be published next month.

But such support was to no avail yesterday when traditionalists panned him. Anthony Kilmister, chairman of the Prayer Book Society, said: "I think if one has to descend to this form of writing, it's rather pathetic and unworthy. It may well be that he will be gaining some notoriety for himself. But as for the church as it moves into the new millennium, he's setting all the wrong notes."

When Mr Wilbourne's pregnant Mary fails to find a room at an inn, she calls Watchdog, the television consumer programme. She is full of teenage angst, happier in her parents' pizza parlour than the synagogue, and baffled by an unexpected ultra-sound scan that reveals a child with a halo in her womb.

Mr Wilbourne said he did not turn the Virgin Mary into a time-travelling diarist for money (the book will cost pounds 4.99). It was to enliven the minds of schoolchildren; he dreads them falling asleep during the school assemblies he is asked to take.

His Mary has a "sense of timing Morecambe and Wise would have approved of", according to one of the book's credits. She goes to Bethlehem with her husband, Joe the Chip, and then seeks help from the television show when, instead of the five-star accommodation she had been promised, she is offered only a stable.

Mr Wilbourne, the vicar of Helmsley in North Yorkshire, admitted he is "letting the imagination run riot". He added: "Palestine was run by the Romans, so an Italian pizza parlour seemed right for her parents. If you don't take a risk with a book then it may not be really worth writing."