Live from Lambeth: Up and not quite running

By Jim Naughton

Greetings from Putney, where I am ensconced until Tuesday morning at the home of the Rev. Giles Fraser, his wife Sally and their three children, including Alice, the forbearing 12-year-old who has surrendered her bedroom so that I might have a place to sleep. I’d like to say that I hit the ground in England running, but it would be more accurate to say that I hit the ground eating and sleeping.

Not long after I arrived at Giles’ place, he and I decamped for breakfast with Bishop Gene Robinson, his partner Mark Andrew and Mike Barwell, Gene’s media relations man, who makes a mean plate of ham and eggs. It took much of the morning to figure out why my mobile phone wasn’t working. In the meantime, we visited Giles’ church, St. Mary’s Putney, hard by Putney Bridge, where the annual Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race begins. Some of the church dates to the, well, I forget, but a hell of a long time ago. It’s where the “Putney Debates” occurred during the English Civil War, and there’s a small room in the church where a visitor can close the door and listen to several educational videos about the controversy between the leaders of Cromwell’s army, and some of their soldiers who argued that they should have the right to vote. (I was half asleep when I watched these videos, so click on the link if you really want to know what they were arguing about.)

Afterwards I was fit for nothing but “getting some kip” as Giles says, which translates roughly into the American as “taking a nap.” I awoke just in time to eat some more. Giles and I met the Rev. Susan Russell and her partner Louise Brooks for a pizza in Putney. First, though, Giles took me to a pub so we could watch some cricket and he could explain to me why it was worth watching. I sent my wife an email saying that I was in a pub watching cricket with a man named Giles who was drinking a Guinness. Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?

All right, enough of the travelogue I suppose. I go back to the church in a few hours to begin a day of media wrangling. Gene is doing about 14 brief interviews between noon and when he preaches at the 6:30 p. m. Eucharist at Giles’ church. Five of them are television interviews and two or three of those are live, so it could get rather hectic. A friend in the UK asked me before I came if I thought Gene had peaked and was on the way down, in terms of his media profile here in England. Apparently not quite. He’s just finished doing the Andrew Marr Show, which is the BBC’s Sunday morning flagship political franchise. The church press may feel as though they have told his story often enough, but the secular media remains riveted. The BBC, Sky TV, ITV, AP, the Times, the Telegraph and the Guardian (for whom Gene wrote yesterday’s Face to Faith column) will all be on hand today, as will The Washington Post.

Giles’ family has just left for church. He serves two churches in the parish, and today is the only Sunday in the year on which he doesn’t have a morning service at both churches. Instead, they meet at the church which I haven’t seen yet, celebrate the Eucharist and have a big picnic. Giles’ and Sally’s six-year-old, Felix, tells me he is looking forward to playing in the “bouncy castle,” previously known to me as a “moon bounce.” Giles himself is bracing for some ribbing from his parishioners. As Café readers know, he was named one of the 50 most influential Anglicans by a panel of experts (including me, so perhaps “expert” like “kip” and “bouncy castle” requires a UK to US dictionary.) News of his eminence will be featured in print for the first time in today’s Sunday Telegraph.

“I am expecting a certain amount of piss-taking” Giles told me last night. I have read the Dalziel-Pascoe detective novels of Reginald Cook, in which piss-taking occurs on almost every page, so I knew that he meant he was expecting to be made fun of. Without such preparation, I might have wondered why he was telling me this.

Time to go wrestle with an ironing board, so my clothes don’t look as though I’ve slept in all of them.

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