Robert Runcie: The Reluctant Archbishop

James Wood writes:

My childhood was spent in the command economy of evangelical Christianity. Life was centrally planned: all negotiations had to pass by Jesus’s desk. Language was religiously inflated. When my bedroom was untidy my parents told me that this was ‘poor stewardship’, because it was not right to be careless with God’s things. Poor behaviour was ‘unworthy’ or ‘unedifying’. Sometimes it seems that my childhood was the noise around the hush of God. And at times an actual hush: I remember several episodes when my parents talked quietly about someone they knew who had ‘lost his faith’, and the solemn vibrations that would fill the house at these times, as if a doctor were visiting. Similarly, my childhood was marked by the deaths of friends of my parents who were members of their congregation, people for whom the full evangelical panoply – prayer, the laying on of hands, anointing with oil – did not seem to have worked.

(LRB 3 October 1996)

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