As a Christian non-golfer, I’m happy to announce great news for non-Christian golfers: the nave of Rochester Cathedral is being converted into a nine-hole golf course.
The likely outcome of this pioneering effort is that lovers of the game will deepen their affection for golf, while developing none for Christ’s message to the world.
This is all especially galling because Rochester Cathedral is one of the oldest and most important seats of English Christianity. St Augustine himself founded it in 604, and over the centuries the cathedral has boasted a long list of great bishops and martyrs.
The Catholic St John Fisher was martyred by the Protestants during the Reformation, while the Protestant Nicholas Ridley was then martyred by the Catholics during the Marian Counter-Reformation.
And some 10 years ago, Michael Nazir-Ali, the 106th Bishop of Rochester (who kindly wrote a flattering preface to one of my books), resigned his seat to do what he can for the persecuted Christians in his native Pakistan.
Prostituting any church is an outrage; doing so to a site as venerable as Rochester Cathedral is a crime. This cheap, blasphemous gimmick isn’t going to fill the pews, even if it may fill the golf course.
As part of the secular crusade, each hole will be decorated with a model of a different type of bridge, which according to those chaps will serve a dual purpose, both educational and symbolic.
Andrew Freeman, from the Rochester Bridge Trust, says: “The idea behind the course is to try and encourage young people and families to come into such a beautiful place to learn about the structures of different bridges.”
And, presumably, to work on their swing at the same time. Worthy ends, both, but it’s not a cathedral’s core function to act as either a golf club or a school of architecture. But silly me, I didn’t grasp the implied symbolism.
Cathedral spokesmen have corrected this failure of perception: visitors will learn how to build “both emotional and physical bridges”. Much as I deplore my own lack of sensitivity to subliminal messages, somehow I doubt many golfers will think about emotional bridges when teeing off.
But the Rev Rachel Phillips, canon at Rochester, disagrees: “We hope that, while playing adventure golf, visitors will reflect on the bridges that need to be built in their own lives and in our world today.”
Quite. Alternatively, they may associate golf links with links between them and God. Or associate an eagle with the bird symbolising the Holy Spirit. Or think of getting closer to Jesus when hitting an approach shot.
The Rev Rachel must be a hit at parties that involve playing charades, but she does little to make me reassess my view of female clergy.
I haven’t made any surveys, so I’m sure exceptions must exist, but every female priest I’ve seen is as unfit to serve God as she is to provide the kind of services that, according to Herodotus, women used to offer in Babylonian temples.
Another Rochester canon, Matthew Rushton, invoked a higher authority: “The Archbishop of Canterbury said to us that if you don’t know how to have fun in cathedrals then you’re not doing your job properly.”
I’d say that not doing his job properly is any priest, never mind a prelate, who’s capable of mouthing such vulgarity. Cathedrals aren’t places to have fun, although they can bring joy – a nuance that some clergymen evidently can’t grasp.
Sinking a long putt is fun; feeling the presence of God is joy, which may be further enriched by the beauty and majesty of his bride, the Church. Our churches are empty largely because so many prelates and priests debauch the dignity and splendour of worship, which alone can fill the pews.
People who don’t yet believe are more likely to attend services that raise them conspicuously higher than their everyday life – not those that strain to provide a phoney imitation of it.
Priests can only attract communicants by doing their real job well, not by loosening the strings on a bag of obscene tricks. To do their job well, they must help people to sense a reality that goes far beyond this world – to rise from the transient to the transcendent.
If the end is thus defined, the means will suggest themselves, and they won’t include pop music, raves, golf or priestesses in sexy cassocks.
(This isn’t a flight of mocking fancy: the designer Camelle Daley specialises in sexing up female clerical garb. According to her, the Church of England’s 2,000-odd priestesses have been “complaining about the boxy, shapeless shirts on offer.” She satisfies the holy ladies’ demand by offering “clothes that accommodate the female shape in cut and fit.” Alleluia.)
One just hopes that whoever decides such matters at Rochester Cathedral will curtail his fecund imagination at driving golf balls under miniature bridges. I for one would hate to see that great altar converted to a bar complete with inverted bottles and beer pumps.