Or so the research seems to a Lutheran; for Anglicans of Dearmer's age and persuasion, on the contrary, it seemed imperative to discover and describe, with as much precision as possible, the history of English ceremonial. One could not very well enforce the Ornaments Rubric, for example, if there was no general agreement about the vestments and paraments in use during the second year of the reign of Edward VI. In the same way, Dearmer often cites church inventories and visitation articles from the fourteenth through the seventeenth centuries, trying to marshal evidence of a distinctive and coherent English church use.
That such evidence is elusive will surprise nobody; what is hard for Lutherans, especially, to grasp is the ... well, the glamor that the effort had for Anglicans from, say, the Ecclesiological Society to the Second World War As a movement that was international from the beginning, and which from the beginning asserted that church unity was expressed by doctrine rather than worship, it is hard for us to grasp just how existentially important the quest for a definitive Anglican liturgical style became during the period of the Romantic revival in liturgics.
While it retains considerable practical value, Dearmer's vademecum for the parish priest may be read for purely aesthetic pleasure, at least if one is also inclined to enjoy, say, the ghost stories of M.R. James. We imagine ourselves sitting in a comfortable chair while chatty old Father Percy shares his opinions on liturgical colors (white linen for Lent, yellow for confessors), the proper dimensions of a corporal or why it is now so important to schedule worship so that young people have adequate time for bicycling on Sundays. Of course, we get a bit fuzzy as the afternoon winds down. Did he say rochet or chimere? Perhaps a cup of oolong will clear our head.
But there are timeless gems, such as his advice on banners:
If churches had half as many banners, and those banners had twice as much spent on them, it would be far better.Sing it, Percy.
However, we are most struck by Dearmer's immensely detailed description of what the vestry ought to be -- or rather vestries, since he believes that each church should have three of them. (We are talking about the room, not the organization, Repress your shudder, ecumenical colleagues). He knows that most do not, of course, but he goes on to describe a nearly impossible ideal. There are cabinets and presses and drawers for everything; a knee-hole desk for the churchwardens; a hook for each choirboy's cassock and another for his surplice. On the wall where the priest will vest is the hymn Come Holy Ghost, and the 43rd psalm. Dearmer has built a castle in his dreams.
The discussion of vestries reaches this otherworldly climax:
It is obvious that many churches have not room for all the various cupboards which I have suggested. But, whatever arrangements are made, care should be taken that there is really a place for everything, even if cupboards and chests have to be put up in the church itself, which, indeed, was the usual ancient practice, and helps to furnish the church if the cupboards are properly designed. Even the cheapest cupboard in the most out-of-the-way vestry should be painted a pleasant colour, or stained green. Varnished pitch-pine and imitation-wood stains are almost as destructive of beauty and warmth of effect as is the oldfashioned oak-graining.This is magnificent. Do you know why? Because it is entirely out of touch with any even modestly realistic aspect of parish ministry, in Deamer's time or our own. Nothing here about the poor begging at the preacher's door, about the late-night visits to the dying, nor even about the dreadful work of repairing leaky roofs and moldy parish halls. Nothing about the abuse heaped upon one by the cultured despisers, or the doglike devotion of the old woman who wants somebody to bury her. A bare nod to the reality that so many churches are small and poor -- and then on to beauty! Give us our green-stained cupboards, so that we may have a moment of beauty as we go about our work.
Sometimes, it is daydreams like this that make the difficulties of clerical life bearable, at least until the greater joys manifest themselves. We have ourselves never actually seen a green-painted vestry cupboard, but by golly we shall dream of them tonight.