As the discussion about Benedict’s successor heats up, I remember how my Episcopal, mostly West Indian, Long Island parish reacted to the last papal transition.
I wrote a piece about our coffee hour conversation the Sunday after the funeral of John Paul II and before the new pope was elected. Most of this has not changed, because it’s the same process, the same characters, the same speculation.
Some people at the time said they had been glued to the coverage and that it had fascinated them. Others would admit nothing and even produced convincing yawns of boredom over the whole thing. Who cared about the Pope?
The senior warden allowed that the whole thing had made him feel a little bit ashamed of the fact that Anglicans don’t have this much status in the world. ”I don’t even know who is the Archbishop of Canterbury,” he complained. ”I would not know him if I fell over him, and when the last one died, who knew?”
A vestrywoman offered consolation: ”If he were to die in office, we’d know”, she said, ”but ours retire and in two years get forgotten.”
The senior warden was not appeased: ”They are forgotten while they’re there,” he said gloomily.
One man thought that Anglicans should be more forceful about our own place in the world. Instead of trotting at the heels of Rome, we should be shouting aloud our different understanding of the Gospel.
Put out ads, he said, use the media to say: We’re different. We welcome women, the divorced, and other despised minorities. We have married priests and our scandals are mostly about money. We should not have any of this reconciliation with Rome business! After all, what’s the point of difference if we keep insisting we’re all the same?
The talk then went to who would be the next Pope. Would it be the Nigerian? Despite the fact this was a mostly black parish, the idea did not find favour.
”God, I hope not!” exclaimed the junior warden. Why not? Well, he might be like our Archbishop of Nigeria [Peter Akinola], mightn’t he? ”He might be combative and bombastic and too conservative for words.”
But it would be great, someone else said. Then the newly-renamed Anglican ‘Primate of All Nigeria’, knowing he would never be elected Archbishop of Canterbury, would covert to RC to be in place for the next papal conclave.
The best thing with a Nigerian is that we would not be in the same danger as from a more liberal Pope. What’s dangerous about a liberal Pope? Well, he might allow married priests, and women priests and all that, and then that would dry up all the disaffected people who come over to us from Rome. There would go our church growth!
All were impressed by the funeral ceremony, though some thought that had the Brits been running the show, it would have been much better. And speculation about the papacy passed into remembrance of that royal wedding, or that state opening of Parliament, or that procession. And as for John Paul II. He’s dead, poor thing, and may he rest in peace.
I said the discussion has not changed substantially now, but I lie. The big difference this time in my parish is that this transition is happening during Lent, when we have a lot to do, and there has been no funeral. So we’re not talking about it at all.
But last time we got a Pope who established an ‘Ordinariate’ aimed at attracting disaffected Anglican priests.