December 9, 2010
I was a newly ordained deacon when I had the privilege of preaching at the wedding of a friend in St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster, which is the ‘parish church’ of Parliament. The Canon of Westminster who also served as Rector of the parish was a lovely man called Trevor Beeson. He could not have been more kind or hospitable to this strange phenomenon of a very young English deacon ordained in The Episcopal Church (then ECUSA). He went on to serve as Dean of Winchester Cathedral from 1987-1996, during which he kept a Diary (SCM, 1997). He also published a similar account of his time at Westminster and some wonderful portraits of some of the ‘characters’ that have served the Church of England as The Bishops, The Deans and so on. A few years ago he ‘came out’ as the author of most of the clerical obituaries in The Telegraph and published a collection of them. At one point in his Winchester Diary he recounts friends being offended on his behalf when and obituary of his immediate predecessor referred to him as “possibly the last of the gentleman Deans.” He could not tell them that he has actually written the thing.
His diary recounts the challenges of a Cathedral system that gives a Dean virtually no ability to manage, rein in, discipline or otherwise count the cathedral clergy as his staff. He recounts overcoming such difficulty to raise over 7 Million pounds in a recession, the encouragement of the arts, the challenge of his wife’s progressive decline from Alzheimer’s disease, his (good) relationship with his bishop and a host of other matters. He occasionally allows his wry humor free rein with lines such as “after a long rehearsal, so-and-so officially retired.”
A fair amount of time in these years was given over to issues around the ordination of women, which he supported, but his bishop and some other members of his Chapter, did not. He made extraordinary arrangements for the consciences of those with whom he had to work who saw the ordination of women as ‘contrary to the will of God’, but after the fist women were ordained in the Cathedral he remarks that in a few years “we will wonder what all the fuss was about.” He thought it sad that his bishop should have stayed at home and missed a marvelous and significant celebration while a Suffragan carried out the ordinations.
I think about our more recent journey with regard to gay and lesbian people and hope that one day the whole church will ‘wonder what all the fuss was about’ even as I recognize that we are not there yet. I was heartened by reports of a recent meeting of our wedding guild who, I’m told, are excited about the likelihood of further Celebrations of Commitment taking place in the church and looking forward to being able to serve all of our parishioners.
If you come across anything written by Trevor Beeson, even if you think you would not be interested, I promise you will enjoy what you read.