How peculiar is the Church of St Edward, King and Martyr?


Adrian and I have asked for an opinion of this vexed question from the Archdeacon of Cambridge, the Venerable Alex Hughes, and here follows edited comments from an email he sent us:


“I think there are two issues at stake with respect to the ‘unusual’ status of St Edward’s. First, there is the question of ecclesiastical jurisdiction – i.e. whether or not it is a Peculiar. Second, there is the question of its submission to Canon Law.

On the first point, you ask whether I would write something to clarify the position of St Edward’s. I do have a fairly firm view on this matter, which is that St Edward’s is not a Peculiar, and that its uniqueness lies only in the manner of appointing clergy. This represents the view of certain well-established legal authorities , and the extensive research of a former member of the congregation at St Edward’s; but the question has never been tested exhaustively, and the costs of doing so are probably prohibitive. Arguably, whether or not St Edward’s ever was a Peculiar, such status was abolished anyway by statutory powers given to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in the 19th century. My inclination, therefore, would be to behave as if St Edward’s is fully a parish within the Diocese of Ely under the Ordinary authority of the Bishop of Ely and the Archdeacon of Cambridge. One symbol of this would be for the Churchwardens to acknowledge their position as Officers of the Bishop by attending my Visitation and swearing themselves in alongside other Churchwardens.

On the second point, whether or not a church has Peculiar status, it cannot simply set aside Canon Law; and all clergy who hold a Bishop’s licence are bound by their oaths and declarations to abide by Canon law, which includes the requirement that they only use such forms of service as are authorized or allowed by Canon. In view of this, St Edward’s should expect to hold services which clearly belong within the family of Church of England liturgies, either of the Prayer Book or Common Worship. Given the extent of material authorized by Common Worship (running to several volumes of liturgical texts) I would be surprised if St Edward’s found it impossible to achieve this. And it is quite possible to introduce additional material to services on an ad hoc basis.

[Furthermore it would still need to use BCP or CW liturgies] because the church would still be under Ordinary authority (i.e. of the Master and Fellows of Trinity Hall), who would presumably require that the church only uses authorized Church of England liturgy”.


Adrian and I have duly been sworn in as Churchwardens at the Archdeacon’s Visitation in May, and are doing our best to steer a course between the former errant direction and that approved by the Diocese, while retaining our distinctive style.

Jillian Wilkinson

“Vicarious religion”… and St Edward’s

Why are we here?

I have been reading the 2nd edition of sociologist Grace Davie’s ‘Religion in Britain’ in which she develops the theme of the 1st edition: believing without belonging. Twenty years on from that her research has led her to identify vicarious religion, which she describes as “the notion of religion performed by an active minority but on behalf of a much larger number who… …not only understand but appear to approve of what the minority is doing… …for example churches… …perform ritual on behalf of others (at the time of a birth or a death for instance); if these services are denied, this causes offence, the more so amongst those who do not attend church with any regularity.” (Davie,  2015 p.6) There is a curious disconnect between the offer of baptism with conditions, to the unquestioned availability of funeral services in the Church of England, if not at St Edward’s.

Amongst the churchgoers there has been “a gradual shift from a culture of obligation or duty to a culture of consumption or choice”  (ibid p7 ) with people attending Cathedral services in greater numbers than before, for the beauty of the building and the music as much as for the liturgy and the anonymity.

I’ve been reflecting on this notion of vicarious religion and what it could mean for us at St Edward’s with no Vicar-Chaplain and a small, gathered, congregation. We are important, not only to each other, but to all who live and work and visit in our parish: we are important as the still-burning light of Hugh Latimer’s last words on the stake: “we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”

The range of services being developed at 11am and 5pm on Sundays offer a different sort of experience to people who may find more conventional churches too repetitive or constraining: in order to attract people to share our life at St Edward’s we need to establish  regular,  varied services,   settled and welcoming congregations, and that sense of timelessness and peace which is so attractive to people unfamiliar with it. “The church [is] the only community that has the experience and authority to offer to its surrounding culture words for repentance,… …for a shared grief over a past that can never be anything other than a record of failure and betrayal… …being named honestly for what it is by people who are not ashamed of naming failure… …and also the animation of the believing community thanksgiving.” (Rowan Williams, in Wells and Coakley, 2008 p178)

In this period of vacancy we can begin to look outward, to observing our position in the centre of Cambridge, to ensuring that the churchyard is tidy, the church open as often as possible to welcome visitors, to provide a beautiful place for people in need of peace a chance to step out of their busy lives and into a place “where prayer has been valid” (Eliot,1942, 2000 p32.)

For all that St Edward’s may have been peculiar in the past, it is now firmly part of the Church of England, with a parish, and a responsibility to minister to the people who live and work here. Vicarious religion indeed. Let us work together to keep the light burning.



Grace Davie: Religion in Britain: a persistent paradox. 2Nd edition. Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Faber 2000

Samuel Wells and Sarah Coakley, eds: Praying for England: priestly presence in contemporary culture. Continuum 2008

                                                                                                                Jillian Wilkinson

From the archives…

St Edward’s is a church with a long and interesting history. Over the coming months we hope to have a series in which we look at some items in our archives and discover some aspects of this history. By way of introduction, we reproduce below an historical map from around 1800 showing St Edward’s parish at that time.

We can see that the map of Cambridge has greatly changed over the last 215 years. However, we observe that many of the institutions are still flourishing within our parish: King’s College and Clare College and Trinity Hall are still within our boundary. It is for this reason that St Edward’s holds the marriage registers for these College chapels, and they have to be borrowed whenever one of them has a happy event. The former Augustinian priory became the Botanic Garden, later the Cavendish laboratory and now various University departments; parts of the original King’s College are now the Old Schools, where such offices as the Vice-Chancellor and the reprographics are to be found – we are grateful to the latter for printing our service sheets and posters.

St Edward's Parish
We should remember all these hives of industry in our prayers for the people who live and work in our parish, and use the individual premises rather than multi-nationals – Indigo coffee house, David’s bookshop, Campkins cameras, the Arts Theatre, the Ark shop, Ben’e’ts coffee shop… so many to explore and support.

                                                                                                                Jillian Wilkinson

A letter from the Churchwardens

Jonah revisited : the far side of the rabbit hole


Writing a letter to a group of people is a curious thing : it is launched into the void, and one never knows if it gets read or rapidly filed in a round filing cabinet. How delightful, then, that several people – thank you – responded to the churchwardens’ letter in the previous newsletter, and one with reflections that suggested there was enthusiasm to dig a bit deeper into the narrative with which we started – that of Jonah. So by way of response, and to maintain the dialogue (and whether or not you agree or otherwise with what follows, it would be great to hear from you), here are a few more reflections…

The whole narrative of Jonah is remarkable – it is one which largely defies categorisation, and is perhaps better known (despite weighing in at just four chapters) than almost any other in the Old Testament, with the possible exceptions of Joseph (courtesy of Lloyd Weber) and perhaps the Fall.

It could be said that the pivotal moment in the narrative – one to which I alluded last month – is:

…the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited out Jonah onto the dry land…

It’s a remarkable moment, not just from a biological point of view, but also because it is the point in the narrative that the “unexpected” really invades. In Jonah 1, the prophet is reluctant to preach forgiveness to the Ninevites: they are Israel’s mortal enemies, and the risk Jonah perceives in a spiritual rescue mission isn’t that it will fail: it is that it will succeed, and that God – Israel’s God – will start to look with mercy upon the Ninevites. It is perhaps no surprise that Jonah defies God and heads to Tarshish.

In practice, the number of Old Testament prophets who persuaded their hearers of the need for repentance can be counted on the fingers of one hand. By all accounts, Jonah had no need to fear.

But once outside the fish, Jonah makes the journey to Nineveh, preaches a message of brutal bluntness, and is met with this:

When the news [of Jonah’s message] reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink… … Who knows? God may yet relent…”

Such repentance outstrips almost any other reported in the Bible. It’s so surprising it feels a little like Alice in Wonderland : read the whale as the rabbit hole, and on the other side, Wonderland: a world turned upside down (or transformed), a surreal reflection of itself, where the prophet “succeeds”, and where a whole city formerly devoted to destruction repents – and is forgiven.

But this vision of Wonderland also provides a forthright challenge. The Ninevites, far from God, thoroughly evil (Jonah 1:1), reflected on their sin and extravagantly renounced it. Jonah 3 naturally raises the question: how much more should we, likewise, be keen to appreciate our own need for forgiveness, and passionate in seeking the abundant mercy that God promises?


Adrian Stacey

A Letter from the New Churchwardens

“You threw me into deep waters, into the midst of the sea”
(Jonah 2.3)

At St Edward’s we may have felt over the past year and a half that we can really empathise with Jonah, as we’ve moved through difficult times. But there are many who are praying for a revitalisation of our church; “when my life was ebbing away, I called out to the Lord, and my prayer came to your holy temple.” As we move into a new chapter in the life of the church, perhaps if we empathised with Jonah in his distress, and prayed with him in his need, it can be our sure hope that we will return to doing what St Edward’s has done for many years, proclaiming to those far away God’s message, ultimately that of forgiveness and love.

But we, as new churchwardens, would appreciate your prayer too – because in the time between Jonah’s prayer and Jonah’s renewed mission, there is the moment of great turbulence “… and the Lord spoke to the fish, and it disgorged Jonah onto the dry land” – and it is through God’s strength that we as churchwardens aspire to support and serve St Edward’s through that transition.

By way of introduction… respectively we attend a range of services. Jillian is a regular at the 10:30am Friday Communion and Adrian at the 11am Sunday service. Jillian is also at the 11am service when she can be, and Adrian’s seminal encounter with St Edward’s was the 5:00pm Meditative Eucharist. We love the corporate life of St Edward’s, including, for example, the meditation, the more formal services, and the more free-thinking and broad-reaching Odyssey-style services. We aim to maintain a regular and harmonious pattern at St Edward’s, in a cycle of interesting and reflective Church of England worship, as we prepare for a new Vicar-Chaplain in the fullness of time.

We hope that you will join us in this endeavour, and look forward to serving you all.

Adrian & Jillian