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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Runcieballs!..., 14 April 2008
This review is from: Robert Runcie: The Reluctant Archbishop (Hardcover)
...was the name given to the Archbishop by Private Eye. This book, written by the son of a Church of England bishop in collaboration with Runcie and his formidable consort, was later all but disowned by them. So first, let me say that I thought it a damn good read, bearing in mind the subject-matter! And for a penny plus postage at present, damn good value on Amazon, too.

Runcie was brought up in what I suppose one might call a bourgeois, indeed, petit bourgeois milieu on Merseyside, managed to get a scholarship to Oxford (pretty much as WW2 broke out) and, later, took up the offer of a commission in the Guards Armoured regiment (being told that, in wartime, the possession of a private income did not really matter). He saw action after the Normandy Landings and ended the war with a certain respect for the Germans, though noting that the British troops tended to loot whatever they could get away with, albeit usually from houses abandoned by their owners.

In the Church after WW2, Runcie climbed steadily, no doubt assisted by his Oxford background, Rosalind's wifely help and, perhaps, the fact that he was very middle of the road, theologically, neither heavily all-but-Roman Catholic High Church, nor Evangelical Low Church. He became Bishop of St. Albans before Canterbury called.

As another reviewer has said, Runcie's fellow high churchmen seem to be, like him, somewhere between sort-of believers and agnostics, with the odd almost-atheist. One bishop (Montefiore) is a converted Jew and, while one can hardly cavil at that (thinking of, among others, St. Peter and St. Paul), one wonders how real is such a person's faith in the SuperNatural...

Careerism is obviously something, hm "not unknown" in the C of E; that does come out strongly in the book, as does the inevitable influence of the bishops' wives in all of that: it does seem to me (nominally C of E) that having a wife does, in general or often, mire a churchman in domesticity. How "holy" can someone be, when he has a wife and children and their interests and welfare and careers etc to think of? There again, some of the bishops, like Stockwood, were plainly gay anyway, as Private Eye often hinted (even scurrilously attributing something similar to Runcie, though on what if any evidential basis one knows not).

Runcie sat in the eye of the British domestic political hurricane as Mrs Thatcher took on the embattled Old Labour cohorts: Michael Foot in his donkey jacket (and Hampstead mansion), Arthur Scargill and his striking miners' legions etc. The C of E, sitting uncomfortably halfway between the lovely old England of the villages and parishes and the horried new faces of a UK scarred by both socialism and rampant capitalism, seemed to have nothing to say: all things to all men. Runcie was scarcely helped in this by Archbishops who seemed to think God was optional (at Durham and York) and by his own "international assistant" and prima donna, Terry Waite, who, meddling in affairs he plainly did not understand, was held hostage in Lebanon for years (though, as the book makes clear, later enjoying huge prosperity as the author of bestselling memoirs and the well known face seen, well, almost everywhere (he was even one of the guests of honour at a dinner I attended around 1993-ish at Lincoln's Inn). And the administration of the Church at its HQ, Lambeth Palace, is shown as shambolic. Indeed, one wonders why the Church of England thought itself fit to meddle in 1980's anti-apartheid politicking and Middle East affairs, when hardly anyone was attending church services etc in England itself?!

The book does pretty much tackle the problem of the Archbishop's wife full on. A pianist by training, she seemed unwilling to be the typical or traditional bishop's wife and was even photographed by the News of the World draped (clothed but very seductive) over a grand piano! Rumours spread widely throughout Runcie's period at Canterbury (and before). Indeed, a lady I knew personally told me, around 1990, I think, that a man she knew as an ex-colleague was a bit more than friendly there...

I was struck, overall, by the sheer shortage of both direct spirituality in the C of E and its equal lack of direction.. It seemed (is?) unwilling to either be an evangelical church in the Low sense, because no-one might turn up (too vulgar)! Yet, the High Church part or party is bedevilled by its not unjustified (in some cases) reputation for being too close to Rome and for its mysogyny and/or alcoholic mysticism ("Beers and Queers", as often said!). So the direction of the Church seems to not quite know where it does stand. The recent absurd outpouring of the present Archbishop of Canterbury, meaning his perceived appeasement of the Muslims, is a case in point.

The book is worth reading and is thought-provoking.
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