The two parishes turned out to be more similar than I had expected. Both combine the thoughtful liturgy and preaching that mark Anglicanism at its best. The two rectors, David Widdicombe, 67, at St. Margaret’s, and Jamie Howison, 57, at saint ben’s, both hunger to work with young people at the city’s several universities, and both sense that the ancient and mysterious aspects of Christianity will be more appealing to people than any seeker-sensitive effort of evangelism that strips down the richness of the faith.
The two are longtime friends and admirers of one another. Neither seems to be aiming for anything other than helping to develop the best church they can. Given his achievements at saint ben’s, Howison could have written a book on church growth, or joined the speaking circuit, but he shuddered at that idea. The book that he has written is about jazz musician John Coltrane, God’s Mind in That Music. He calls the book “delightfully irrelevant to my ministry,” and adds: “but Coltrane feeds me.”
Widdicombe is only a bit less shy in sharing his ministry insights. He has a D. Phil. in theology from Oxford, where he focused on the theology of P. T. Forsyth and worked under Rowan Williams. He tells of getting thrown out of two classrooms—once by a liberal professor, another time by a conservative one—each time over questions of biblical interpretation.
Widdicombe’s sermons exude erudition. The day I’m there he preached from the lectionary text on Israel’s demand for a king and God’s sad warning: “he will take, he will take, he will take.” Never mentioning Trump by name, he portrayed all politics as a revolt against the reign of Christ. In some sense, worldly politics have to fail—or else we would fail to long for the kingdom Christ will bring. With its Augustinian realism about the continued reign of Babylon, the sermon owed something to another of his teachers at Oxford, Oliver O’Donovan.
Widdicombe made no reference in the sermon to himself, those listening, or the world. His only interest seemed to be in Christ and the text. Afterward, I talked to Marilyn Simons, a Shakespeare scholar who teaches at the local universities and who came to faith at St. Margaret’s. She said Widdicombe does with texts what the church and the academy have forgotten how to do: he lovingly interprets them.
Read it all (my emphasis).