A view backstage at Beverley Minster

Onwards and upwards

Life at the Minster starts settling into a new pattern after recent changes. Neil Pickford comes to some tentative conclusions.
Well, nobody critical ran away screaming during the inauguration service so, as of last Wednesday, The Reverend Jeremy Fletcher IS the vicar of Beverley Minster. All we’re waiting for now is the sign-writer to turn up with his little pot of paint and add Jeremy’s name to the 30 that currently adorn a wooden panel in our North Quire Aisle.
This panel lists all the vicars who’ve occupied the post at the Minster since the reforms of Henry VIII in 1548. A quick calculation show that they’ve built up a pretty good average of  15 years and four months per incumbent – which has saved a fair amount on gilt paint over the centuries, believe me. Let’s see if Jeremy raises or lowers this figure.
While the sign-writer is here for the vicar we can also get him to finally add Robert Poyser’s name to the list of organists (11 since 1769 – that’s nearly 21 years and 10 months each) after six months in post. Doing it this way in these hard times has saved us a second call-out charge and, in the words of the famous advert: “Every little helps.”
Once the names are on the main noticeboard as well then it’s properly official – although it already feels like Jeremy has been in post for a while.
I think it’s fair to state that he’s hit the road running – just the right blend of confidence and diffidence – and I’m not just saying that because my salary comes up for discussion soon.
No, he’s already been putting himself about, taking a lot of trouble to try and remember people’s names and find out their opinions, while giving the impression that he can get things sorted. He also claims he’s got a sense of humour “and is not afraid to use it.”
Well, we’ll see how that works out for him.
He’s already had to show he can take it as well as dish it out, having been unmasked to the innocent world of East Yorkshire as the priest who wrote prayers in 2002 for the safe recovery of David Beckham’s foot and for England to beat Brazil in the quarter-finals of the World Cup (which didn’t work). This tale went all around the world seven years ago and it’s been resurrected in the local media during the last week.
It may not be quite what he wants to see on his tombstone, but in many ways it could be worse.
After all, in my childhood Sunday wasn’t a proper Sunday without the News of the World or The People exposing another priest’s infidelities, normally with the wife of a loyal parishioner.
In fact my home town,which was otherwise so boring and predictable, made this into a regular feature of the local church – no less than three of our vicars had run away with another man’s wife before I got to secondary school.
I often wondered what was so special about this particular wife, but I later found out it was three separate women – although I’m not sure if that made it any better.
Another vicar, the father of a good friend, made the international news when he formally invoked a curse on some little toerags who’d broken into his church, while yet another made a right Royle (ha ha) career out of being unfailingly sanctimonious on the BBC.
Let’s not even go near the Bishop of Southwark, nor the vicar who ran off with a verger (can you believe that? Mind you, people who spell ‘virger’ like that obviously have no standards).
So, all in all, and I know it’s early days yet, but I think we’ve got off lightly so far with Jeremy.
p.s. Just one point of information: Jeremy is no longer a canon and his official title is simply Reverend Fletcher for now – his former rank was attached to his previous position as precentor at York Minster and on his resignation that seat became available for his successor ‘s bottom to fill.
So, as he said, he’s no longer a big shot in the Church of England – ha ha. I disagreed and said it meant he was no longer a big bore, and at that point we agreed to change the subject.
Being a canon in the Church of England is a peculiar thing, especially if the title is more than just an honorary award to a retiring priest. Just because the previous vicar at the Minster was one doesn’t automatically mean his replacement will get a similar rank (although, with the way the diocese is cutting back on numbers there may soon be more titles to go around than people to fill them).
Canons used to make the law of the Church and we had eight of them based at Beverley Minster when it was a collegiate church. However, thanks to Henry VIIIth we lost them, and demolished the building (the Chapter House) that housed them. Now our nearest canons meet in York Minster where their seats and titles can be seen in a chapter house attached to the north side of the main building.
The College of Canons is made up of the  Dean, every Suffragan Bishop of the diocese, every full-time Stipendiary Assistant Bishop of the diocese (whatever they are), every Canon of York (total 36, clergy and lay) and every Archdeacon in the diocese. So now you know.
I could try and explain a bit more about how the system works but, frankly, I suspect the space it would take up is far greater than your interest or my attention span can justify. Let’s just call it another quaint Anglican tradition for now and see if Jeremy cops another one in a few years time.

First published September 2009


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