I promise I am not postponing that letter deliberately, to tantalise…
I realised that I couldn’t have remembered the date of its arrival quite correctly, so have been back to my notes, everything I wrote at the time, to check. I find I had blanked out quite a lot.
There was Christmas in between. And a fair bit else, besides.
I don’t do crosswords, as Shaun does. And I am dyslexic. So it was a while before I realised “bishop” can be an anagram for “stitch-up”.
Since Shaun’s breakdown we had been seeing our bishop once a month. Friday afternoons. Prayer, advice and help.
Well, prayer and advice...
That is to say, a cup of tea anyway. He did manage that. I suppose because his wife probably made it.
He was always absolutely charming – to be honest, you don’t get to be a bishop if you aren’t always absolutely charming; either that, or a woman – and it felt good to have him on our side. Though obviously, of course, being a bishop, he wasn’t taking sides...
He must be on everyone’s side…
Anyway, by late November, Shaun deemed himself well enough to work again. He might be dreading it, but knew he must. So he told the bishop during our November cup of tea that he was now ready for a phased return.
To our astonishment, the bishop discouraged the idea. Rather emphatically, in fact. Shaun shouldn’t even think about such a thing. He should concentrate on getting well.
Surely… the important thing was to establish his right to work again?
On the other hand our wonderful Kensington bishop, John Hughes, nearly twenty years earlier, had explained to our small children that he was primarily a shepherd. His job was to pastor, to care for, his clergy.
So... maybe this bishop was worried about Shaun’s health? I mean, why else would he say that?
It was around this time, too, that I wrote to Archbishop Rowan. Quite a few friends, over quite a long time, had said our situation was so shocking we should bring it to his attention.
I’d already met him professionally, introducing him as speaker for National Marriage Week, at a launch in the House of Commons a few years earlier. So I asked advice of the person who had introduced us.
“There is no one in the world,” he told me, “too busy to spare fifteen minutes. Ask him for a quarter of an hour, exactly. No a moment more.”
So I did. Hardcopy, and email.
I don’t suppose he ever saw the letter. An official replied, inviting Shaun to meet him in Lambeth.
When we mentioned this to our bishop he raised his eyebrows. As if impressed. Or rather, actually, almost as if slightly disconcerted...
So Shaun went to London in a suit, came back in a good mood and said the official had been most encouraging, and agreed that the way we’d been treated was extremely unjust.
“What else? What help is he going to give us?”
“Well, he suggested I should get another job.”
That was the sum total of what Lambeth would do for us?
Saints preserve us...
Could we not have worked that out for ourselves?
It was during Shaun’s next episcopal cup of tea, in December, that the bishop dropped his little bombshell. It was the only time I wasn’t able to attend, so Shaun went on his own.
Perhaps it was just as well, I thought afterwards. I react. Shaun listens, reflects, mulls... and doesn’t speak until much later.
(On the other hand, perhaps it wasn’t entirely a coincidence...)
The bishop had told him, Shaun reported back, that the church wanted to support him in finding a new post. So much so, that they were willing to pay him not to work.
“How long for?”
The bishop had been a bit vague on that point. Perhaps a year’s stipend? Shaun hazarded.
“And what then? If you still have no job to go to?”
He hadn’t gone into that aspect of the plan.
“And if you find other work in less than a year? Can you keep the money?”
Well... I suppose so. Though he hadn’t gone into that either.
“And where do we live in the meantime?”
That, too, hadn’t exactly been specified.
This whole plan seemed rather like C of E doctrine. When it is trying to be ecumenical. (Fudge it enough, and everyone will be able to sign up because it won’t mean anything.)
The one thing the bishop had seemed absolutely sure about was that the church honestly wanted to help us.
Which was indeed truly remarkable.
Shaun was to meet up with the churchwardens in the New Year, 3rd January, so they could offer him all this lovely gushing assistance and support they suddenly wanted to give him.
Oh, look, here’s another anagram of “bishop”! I think I’m getting the hang of this.
(Do you think I could help set the Times crossword clues? I expect they have some disability-inclusion-requirement, so a quota of dyslexics must contribute. Count me in!)
That works, doesn’t it?