Chris Bryant: As a vicar I found that most churchgoers are liberals trying to find meaning in life

A Political Life

Share
Related Topics

Spool back 25 years to 14 December 1986.

I had just moved into a new house by the railway station in High Wycombe and had donned a dog collar for the very first time, as I was about to be ordained deacon in the very beautiful Parish Church of All Saints by the Bishop of Buckingham (who always jested that he lived in the other Buckingham Palace).

As I was getting out of the car with a box of wine for the post-ordination reception, a stranger came up to me. "Excuse me, you're clearly a holy man," she started, prompting much guffawing from my friends. "You must know where the Kingdom Hall is." Sadly, I didn't know where it was. "And, in fact, I haven't been ordained yet," I said. "Ah, well," she replied, "I'm sure when you are ordained you will know."

And so I spent half the ordination service wondering whether a special knowledge would descend on me the moment the bishop placed his hands on my head. It didn't.

I was never a great curate, really. Always too insubordinate and rather heterodox in my beliefs. But I enjoyed the amazing privilege of being close to people at some of the most acute moments in their lives. Like the very first lady I visited, who died in my arms, happy that the curate had come. Or the funeral of a disabled teenager who believed equally passionately in social justice and Paul Simon, so we sat in tears at the crematorium listening to all four minutes and 50 seconds of "Bridge over Troubled Water". Or the joy of visiting the special care baby unit every Wednesday with communion for exhausted, exhilarant mums.

And in the end there is (was?) something profoundly decent about the Church of England, because contrary to rumour, most churchgoers are not self-righteous hypocrites, but liberal-minded people who are looking for a sense of meaning in their lives. And maybe we do all need to hear the roar of faith, sing the hymns of hope and practise just a bit more charity. Or is that too pious?

Tory silence on Russia has a background

I'm worried. Two weeks ago the Special Immigration Appeals Commission decided that Katia Zatuliveter was not a Russian spy, even though the security services had asked me to provide a written statement about her. And now, following the elections in Russia, it seems that every Russian politician I have had lunch with this year has been arrested.

First the brave blogger Alexey Navalny and then the opposition politician Boris Nemtsov. What really worries me, though, is that David Cameron and William Hague are so obsessed with doing more trade with Russia that they are terrified of saying boo to Moscow. Yet in Putin's Russia, no business is done without massive kickbacks for officials; torture is commonplace; the free media have been closed down; journalists have been murdered; and, not content with rigging the election (in Chechnya Putin's United Russia party got a suspicious 99.5 per cent of the vote), he is now crushing peaceful demonstrations.

I fear that the Tories' shameful reluctance to speak is because Tories and the United Russia parties between them dominate the same European Democrat grouping in the Council of Europe.

Glamour is in the eye of the beholder

We had a rather unchivalrous moment this week. While asking the Business Secretary a question about the "miracle" fabric graphene, Tory MP George Freeman decided to brandish a sheet of the material to illustrate his point, incurring the wrath of the Speaker as the rules of the House prohibit such "props". Having finished his question, Freeman handed the honeycomb lattice to a friend, whereupon Bercow had another go, demanding that he stop passing "that rather unglamorous specimen around the Chamber". This time, the Mancunian Graham Stringer took offence, as apparently graphene was discovered in Manchester. Bercow then put his foot in it by saying, "Of course, I readily concede that something unglamorous can also be very important", before calling Penny Mordaunt to speak. Cue much laughter. For the record, I think Penny is perfectly glamorous enough.

On the ropes

Advent brings with it a swathe of awards ceremonies, so this week I've been at the GovNet Alternative Politician and the ITV Wales Politician of the Year thrashes. I had been to another such event a few years ago and was perhaps looking a tad worse for wear the next morning when a Tory MP asked me what I had been up to the night before. I told him it had been the Welsh Sports Personality of the Year Awards, to which he (hilariously) replied: "That's a bit of contradiction in terms three times over, isn't it?" All I could say was: "Well, I suggest you take it up with the winner, Joe Calzaghe."

Why do gay people have to be flamboyant?

Belgium has a new Prime Minister, the 60-year-old Socialist Francophone leader, Elio di Rupo. Leaving aside the fact that the country has been without a government for 596 days since the previous PM resigned and yet has managed to achieve the fastest economic growth in the EU – which is something of a reproof to all us politicians – I was intrigued to see how his elevation was reported in the UK. One newspaper called him "flamboyant", another as "gay and flamboyant".

It's a word that the gays get used to, flamboyant, as in BBC Wales veteran Patrick Hannan's first question to me after I was elected as MP for the Rhondda in 2001: "Aren't you a bit too flamboyant for the Rhondda?" I guess he really meant too gay, but he didn't dare say it. So far, the only evidence I can find for Elio di Rupo's "flamboyance" is that he wears red bow ties, something Sir Robin Day was also prone to – without, so far as I know, any allegations of concomitant homosexuality. I rather like that in 1996, when di Rupo was asked whether he was gay, he just said: "Yes, so what?"

twitter.com/ChrisBryantMP

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Foundation Phase Teacher required

£90 - £110 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Exciting opputunities availabl...

Learning Support Assistant

£65 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Due to the continual growth and...

Learning Support Assistant - Newport

£65 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Cardiff: Due to the continual growth and...

Operations Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently recruiting for an Operati...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Prime Minister David Cameron walks on stage to speak at The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) annual conference on November 4, 2013  

Does Cameron really believe in 'British Values'?

Temi Ogunye
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz