25 MARCH 1995, Page 26

LETTERS Not so rosy

Sir: William Waldegrave, whom I like and admire, has got it badly wrong in his article (There'll always be an England', 18 March) saying that the C of E is in good heart in Somerset. I write from the next parish but one (between High Littleton and Chewton Mendip stands Farrington Gurney — funny names we have down here in Zummerzet). When a popular bishop comes to induct a popular new vicar of course we put on a show, but it is a show. It must not be allowed to mask the fact that in the Diocese of Bath and Wells, as in every other diocese, the C of E commands the regular support and atten- dance of 3 per cent of the population. No other Church is doing much better.

The great majority of the people, here as elsewhere, adhere to the doctrine of secular materialism. This is not simply brutal stu- pidity; it asks serious questions, and tries to answer them. Is there a God? Probably not. If there is, has He a personality and the moral nature that goes with being a per- son? There's no evidence for it. Is He con- cerned with what we do or what happens to us? Again, no evidence for it. So what then should Man do during life? Get on with it and enjoy himself. This being Somerset, it quite often means settling down with a gal- lon of cider (price £3) and the latest soft- porn video on a Sunday and telling the kids to go away and get into mischief.

The parish clergy, of this and every dio- cese, must be men of more than mortal mould to endure what they do. As I read the first lesson at evensong I get a vicar's view of the church, i.e., a sea of empty pews with eight or perhaps ten people huddled at the back; is there perhaps someone in the shadow of that far pillar? I raise my voice, and hurl one of the blood-thirstier bits of the Old Testament into the void, thinking as I do that anyone who acted on the moral principles I am enunciating would have to be locked away. Then our admirable vicar delivers a carefully crafted and moving ser- mon, which has clearly taken real effort to prepare. As I leave, I try to say something to show I have been listening, and I am ashamed at the pleasure he shows.

It is not as though vicars had the com- pensation of working for a rich and power- ful organisation which pays them well and offers good prospects. They are all nearer to Mr Crawley (Perpetual Curate of Hog- glestock) than to Archdeacon Grantly. I am (God forgive me) on the Bishop's Council for Ministry, so I see the figures and can reflect that I wouldn't recommend it as a career to a young man.

Our Lord Bishop wrote to the Times a year or two back about the fulfilled life of a diocesan bishop. Wherever he goes he sees full churches and active parishes. Of course he does: he is well-known — especially as the Thought for the Day — a fine speaker and every inch a prince of the Church. But what he sees are Potemkin villages, disman- tled after his passage and re-erected further along his route.

The old thing will survive. Enough peo- ple still believe in it for that. But if things are not as bad as William Oddie says, nei- ther are they as rosy as William Walde- grave makes out.

G. M. Wedd

The Lodge, Church Hill, High Littleton, Bristol