EARLIER today crowds at Canterbury Cathedral were treated to the comical sight of the new Archbishop, Justin Welby, banging three times on the door with a bloody big stick.
A voice from the interior – that of a young member of the congregation, Evangeline Kanagasooriam, 17 – asked the archbishop “Who are you and why do you request entry?” and “Why have you been sent to us?”
Welby, the new spiritual leader of the world’s 77-million Anglicans, replied:
I am sent as archbishop to serve you, to proclaim the love of Christ and with you to worship and love him with heart and soul, mind and strength.
Today’s shenanigans, which saw Welby’s episcopal derriere lowered onto TWO thrones, follow a storm of protests over a Comic Relief sketch featuring Rowan Atkinson impersonating the Archbishop of Canterbury on March 15. His performance attracted more than 2,000 complaints.
Before the 9pm watershed the Mr Bean star posed as a fictional version of the religious leader during a three-minute sketch on BBC One, in which he made a number of jokes, including comparing boy band One Direction to Jesus’ disciples; saying prayer “doesn’t work” and advising viewers that Jesus said “love your neighbours”, but not “shag your neighbours”.
The BBC received over 2,200 complaints about the routine, with a quarter objecting to the religious context. The corporation has already removed the video from catch up service iPlayer, and it has vanished from YouTube,
In total, the BBC got more than 3,000 complaints about the Comic Relief charity fund-raising night of programming, which drew a peak audience of 12.2m people and raised over £75 million for good causes.
Other complaints related to a sketch involving the popular BBC One series Call the Midwife, which referred to a “vajazzle”.
A BBC spokeswoman said that Comic Relief is a night of live television that it is:
Known for pushing at the boundaries of comedy alongside heartfelt appeal films.
It is made for a varied and wide-ranging audience so getting the language, tone and content of the evening is extremely important to us. This year the programme was watched by a peak audience of 12.2m and we raised a record total of over £75m, but to any viewers we may have offended, we apologise.
Ofcom has also received more than 400 complaints about Comic Relief, covering both the Rowan Atkinson and Call the Midwife skits, along with other issues.
The regulator has not indicated as yet whether it will launch an investigation.
In his first sermon, Welby said:
There is every possible reason for optimism about the future of Christian faith in our world and in this country.
But the Beeb’s’s religious affairs correspondent, Robert Pigott, says the new archbishop is inheriting a Church which has seen congregation numbers decline dramatically in recent decades, and which is struggling to promote a Christian message to an increasingly sceptical and secular society.
It will be seen as his job to unite a Church deeply riven by disputes about women bishops, and, more dangerously, sexuality.
For the first time in history, a woman – the Venerable Sheila Watson, Archdeacon of Canterbury – carried out one of the two enthronements when she installed the archbishop on the diocesan throne in the cathedral, symbolising his appointment as bishop of Canterbury.
He was then sworn in as the Archbishop of Canterbury by the Dean of Canterbury, the Very Rev Robert Willis, on the marble chair of St Augustine.
Apart from the Royals and Prime Minister David Cameron, representatives of the world’s major religions were among those present at the circus, which featured hymns, African dancers, Punjabi music and improvised organ music.
Other personal touches included the archbishop’s colourful vestments which were originally designed and made for the late Bishop of Peterborough, the Most Rev Ian Cundy, who was his tutor at Cranmer Hall, Durham, where he trained in preparation for ordination.
Ahead of his enthronement, the archbishop told the BBC that while he supported the Church of England’s formal opposition to same-sex relationships, he was
Challenged as to how we respond to it.
In a nutshell, clueless. But not entirely. He acknowledged that some gay couples have loving, stable and monogamous relationships.
The Church of England holds very firmly, and continues to hold to the view, that marriage is a lifelong union of one man to one woman. At the same time, at the heart of our understanding of what it is to be human, is the essential dignity of the human being. And so we have to be very clear about homophobia.
Hat tip: John M White (Rowan Atkins report)