Fr. Dwight Longenecker– Catholic blogger extraordinaire and friend of The Back of the World– has released a fantastic short story called “The Vicar of Great Snoring.” It’s available for the Kindle here, and if you don’t have an e-reader, it can be purchased as a Word doc here. At $2.99 ($1.99 for the Word doc), it’s a great deal.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Fr. Longenecker’s blog, “Standing on My Head,” one of the most enjoyable things about Father’s writing is that he employs many “guest bloggers”– really, just fictional characters from Fr. Longenecker’s imagination (though they always seem to fool a person or two in his comments section). One such “guest blogger” is the Rev. Humphrey Blytherington, the Anglican Vicar of an imaginary town in the English countryside. Regular readers of “Standing on My Head” are already familiar with Rev. Blytherington’s views on things, and the cast of characters in the little parishes he oversees… “The Vicar of Great Snoring” tells the tale of how Humphrey managed to land his job in the first place. It’s a Great Snoring prequel, if you will.
I’m a big fan of the Rev. Blytherington posts (though of Fr. Longenecker’s many characters, Caitlin O’Rourke will always have pride of place in my heart…), so I was delighted when Fr. Longenecker sent me a review copy of “The Vicar of Great Snoring.” And Humphrey’s first venture into the world of short stories did not disappoint: it’s insightful, enjoyable reading that’s uproariously funny at times (particularly if you’ve spent some time in the Anglican world, or are at least familiar with its troubles).
Humphrey Blytherington is an affable, agreeable English gentleman, who unfortunately (and quite unwittingly) is the personification of a great deal that’s wrong with mainstream Protestantism generally, and much of Anglicanism specifically. The good Reverend proudly tells us that his religion is the good ol’ C. of E.– the Church of Everybody– and that he’s completely uninterested in theology. His main concerns as a priest are making sure that the holidays are celebrated with vigor, that mothers are properly honored on Mothering Day, that choral evensong is maintained and that the hounds are blessed before the big annual hunt. He’s got little regard for Evangelicals that go about asking people if they’ve been saved or for Anglo-Catholics that insist on wearing ornate vestments…but nor is he all that interested in a liberal agenda of allowing homosexuals to get married. Humphrey’s Anglicanism is all about being polite and social and maintaining local custom: his first duty, as a Vicar in the Church of England, is to make sure that his English parishioners stay very nice and English…
The problem is that, as likable a bloke as Humphrey is, he is completely asleep at the wheel. His church is being torn apart by theological controversy, by demographic changes, by the slow decline of a once great civilization… but Humphrey is quite content with to take his tea and digestives with friends, not even bothering to read the denominational newspaper. Indeed, he seems oblivious to his need for anything even passable as “religion”– Jesus Christ and His Gospel get no mention in the good Reverend’s charming narration.
Herein we find hints at the roots of the demise not just of the Church of England, but of Western Christianity more generally… not in the loud roars of the revolutionary or the revisionist, but in the quiet chuckle of the country parson who sees Christianity as a jolly good tradition. A religion as depleted as Humphrey’s can’t possibly wield the power of the Cross. Rev. Blytherington is as endearing a character as you could want, but his life reminds us just where the proverbial “road paved with good intentions” leads.
All in all, “The Vicar of Great Snoring” is a great read, regardless of whether this is your first time meeting Rev. Blytherington or you’re already old chums. Download it ex post haste!