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Nicholas Hancock
The Poet of Despair

Published by The British Hancock Society
with the permission of the author.



Gene Robinson had not long become the first practising gay bishop in the United States Episcopalian Church when the Rev Thomas Dewy received a phone call at 3.57 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
         ‘That Dewy?’
          ‘It is he. Wait. It’s early in the morning, and I must take the call next door so as not to keep my wife awake.’
          Ignoring his slippers, he tiptoed out, trailing the phone behind him, barely           clicking the door shut.
          ‘Okay then. May I ask who’s calling?’
          ‘So sorry. Should have thought of the time difference. Bishop Oko of Uganda.’
          ‘O-o-o-o-h?’ The syllable was long drawn out. As if he’d discovered a fragment of the True Cross in his breakfast cereal.
           ‘First let me be absolutely sure I have the right person. You are the Anglican minister of Goffstown, New Hampshire?’
           Thomas hesitated a while: the accent was thick and the words barely recognisable. Then he made up his mind. ‘That’s me.’
           ‘Then I’ll get down to business. Here in Kampala we’re very upset by the turn things have taken back there in the States. We want you to be bishop of New Hampshire.’
           Thomas was taken aback. ‘But we already have one.’
           A proper Biblical one, a heterosexual one.’
          He was dumbfounded. ‘But isn’t the choice down to local ecclesiastical authorities, My Lord?’
          ‘Bishop will do. No – William. Call me William. As an archbishop in the worldwide Episcopal communion I have the right to nominate for anywhere that the Anglican faith prevails in. You would be a bishop of the Province of the Church of Uganda – but serving in the USA.’
          He now mentioned the salary, a church-princely one. By now Thomas was hooked.
         ‘And how d’you know I’m not gay myself?’
         ‘Married with five kids – Doesn’t look likely, man.’
         ‘Robinson was married, you know.’
         ‘I do, but he didn’t have five sons.’
         ‘So Robinson and I would be – in competition?’
         ‘Exactly. Look, think it over. Got a pen?’
         ‘Why, yes.’
         ‘Then my number – complete with national prefix – is 00256 41 727 2090. When you and your dear wife have talked it over, call me back, will you, Thomas?’
          The briefest of hesitations. ‘I will, William. Good-bye.’
Joyce was fast asleep when Thomas peeled back the sheet and slid under it. Her modest snore barely disturbed his excited thoughts.

The rest was like a dream. But he often had to ask himself if he really had been awake for that phone call. Surely it couldn’t have taken place. This was a clerical fairy tale. It just didn’t happen – not to people like him.
         After the first shock, Joyce was enthusiastic. She’d always been ambitious for him. Her own father had hankered after a mitre, so she knew what thwarted ambition was. Besides, Goffstown was a joke. Though the town hall had its own miniature splendour, their place of work, St Matthews’ white clapboard, was indistinguishable from so many thousands of American churches and altogether too humble.
         A return call was made to the Right Reverend William Oko; within days first class tickets arrived for Thomas and Joyce as well as for their five strapping boys.
        The enthronement took place in St Paul’s Cathedral, Namirembe, Kampala. During the six-hour service the boys – Thomas Junior, Tony, Frank, Charles and Benjamin – kept sane by texting each other on mobiles hidden behind their hymnals. The hymns were in Lugandan anyway, so they couldn’t follow these – though they did appreciate both the singing and the harps. Archbishop Oko’s address was almost exclusively about homosexuality and the danger of the rift he was helping to perpetuate in the cup K bosom of the Anglican Church.
         The reception afterwards was like no other. Everyone was there from the Prime Minister to the Russian Ambassador. Thomas, still in his dazzling canonicals though deprived momentarily of his mitre and crook, was suitably pious but above all – halleluiah! – ripplingly male. Early morning cold showers and vigorous jogging had inflated his machismo to breaking point. Next day’s early edition of New Vision said ‘his fingertips literally dripped with gonadotraphin and testosterone’.
         The new Episcopal family were greeted in the New Hampshire capital by an altogether more martial headline from the Concord Monitor. ‘Episcopalian battle lines are forming. Thousands of angry worshipers will flock to Eagle Square, where they will demonstrate publicly their determination to be led by a heterosexual bishop, the Right Reverend Thomas Dewy.’ The very place name Concord was beginning to sound oxymoronic.
         If anything, the open air service in the lee of the State Capitol’s solid classical respectability was to turn out to eclipse the recent Kampala spectacle. The Right Reverend’s mitre shone like the cupola above him; his congregation belted out the hymns. It was heavenly perfect in the best of all possible worlds.
         Having imbibed more than his share of altar wine, the new bishop had to have the taxi wait by a public toilet that evening, his sons calling out joyfully to him through the cab window.
         You can imagine the rest. An undercover cop representing the interests of the rival bishop was to swear in court later that the father of five had solicited sexual favours in a public convenience. The Church Militantly Straight militated against him, daubing the façade of his new Concord home in faeces and other unmentionables. Police were called in to protect the family, but too late. A brick had sailed through the glass of a sitting room window, contacting loudly with the forehead of Benjamin, youngest of the Dewy sons. For a short while a spurt of blood pulsed out of the shattered skull, but soon this stopped.
          Joyce rushed to his side, searching desperately for a carotid she could not find. At this point Thomas took the lifeless body of his son in his arms and made for the front door; Frank pushed ahead to open it, and the father walked out onto the top step.
          In an instant, the crowd was quiet, looking in horror at what they had done.
Thomas cleared his throat. ‘Is the man that cast that stone without sin?’ Silence greeted his words. ‘Go home. You have done more than enough for one night.’
         Guilt showing in every movement, they turned on their heels and walked back to their automobiles.