The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Polari? Uh-oh!

So, a little over a week ago, a group of ordinands at Westcott House Anglican theological College kicked up a bit of a scandal by holding a Polari Evensong. Or, as the Guardian explains:
A leading theological college that trains priests for the Church of England has apologised after it hosted a service to mark LGBT history month that referred to God as “the Duchess”.

Student priests at Westcott House in Cambridge organised the evensong service on Tuesday in the college chapel. Advertised as a “Polari evening prayer in anticipation of LGBT+ history month”, it was described as a “liturgical experiment”. Polari is slang used by some gay people.

A prayer referred to the “Fantabulosa fairy” and ended: “Praise ye the Duchess. The Duchess’s name be praised.” Psalm 19 was reworded to refer to “O Duchess, my butchness”.
Oh, as usual, dear.

Not that I like to visit, but Virtueonline (of course_ has the service leaflet. A sample:
Rend your thumping chests and not your frocks, and turn unto the Duchess your Gloria; for she is bona and merciful, slow to wild, and of dowry kindness, and repenteth her of the nana.

O Duchess, open thou our lips.

And our screech shall show forth thy praise.

O Gloria, make speed to save us.

O Duchess, make haste to help us.

Fabeness be to the Auntie, the Homie Chavvie, and to the Fantabulosa Fairy,

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, wold nantl end. Lariou.

Praise ye the Duchess.

The Duchess's name be praised.
You get the idea.

Look, five points for the translation of Psalm 19:2 as "Journo unto journo uttereth cackle." And I'm not likely to join Andrew Symes and Rod Dreher in reflexive outrage, but I have to say, the exercise does seem to me ill thought out and ill advised. First, according to the Telegraph (quoted by VO, above link):
The Principal of Westcott House, Revd Canon Chris Chivers, told The Telegraph that the service had not been vetted beforehand; was not an authorised act of worship; and was "hugely regrettable".

He added: "The service that was produced was completely at variance with the doctrine and teaching of the Church of England."

Canon Chivers said that worshippers -- who included staff and ordinands -- had not been warned of the unorthodox content in advance and only discovered it when they picked up their orders of service.

"People found themselves in a situation they hadn't expected," he said.
In Now that to me raises an issue of the exercise of good judgment. It's one thing to work out a rite of worship for private use, or on a retreat. It's quite another to switch out the authorized liturgy for a new creation that uses alternative language that may be either comical or deeply offensive to those expecting a traditional or at least authorized Evensong, and will certainly be unfamiliar (as Polari largely died out about 50 years ago). It raises the question of what were the ordinands hoping to achieve? Anything more than ├ępater la bourgeoisie? If so, they could have advertised the liturgy well in advance, letting worshippers know what they were in for. Back in 2005, the "Clown Eucharist" held by my good friends at Trinity Wall Street (seriously, I was a parishioner at TWS for many years, and have great affection for the place and people) was flagged in advance to the parishioners, allowing them to make an informed decision whether to attend or, er, go elsewhere that morning.

Now, a quite spirited theological defense of the service may be found here, and an equally spirited (but irenic) reply here. I'm afraid I find the defense of the liturgy less persuasive than the critique. Some of the turns of phrase in the Polari Evensong can be quite amusing, but Evensong isn't meant to be funny. Moreover, the words just don't work; ultimately they don't convey the content adequately, and, frankly, in some places empty the theological content out--the "Son" as part of the Trinity conveys rather a different meaning than the "Homie Chavvie."

Prudence is a virtue, dear ordinands.

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