Guess who accosted Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch yesterday

I’ve been having something of a spiritual crisis recently, a real rocking of my faith, which has caused me to be a miserable dark heart.

As a consequence, I knew I had to turn off the laptop this past weekend and dedicate to other things. As part of this I went on the annual Diocesan pilgrimage to Glastonbury. It’s not quite the pilgrimage of old, as it used to comprise walking and praying for a week, each way. Yesterday’s pilgrimage involved me snoring on a coach for an hour or so.

In the first glorious sunshine for weeks, as coaches piled into Glastonbury Abbey from around the Diocese, Wifey noticed a small BBC camera crew. And standing behind a large furry microphone was none other than the world’s leading church historian; Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch.

I’ve written on MacCulloch’s seminal work, ‘A History of Christianity.’, here on this blog and am a huge fan of his BBC work of the same name.

Wifey went into groupie mode and casually ambled over to MacCulloch to say Hi and let him know how much she enjoyed his work. He seemed genuinely pleased and surprised. Perhaps he’s not recognised as often as I’d suppose.

After the procession, Wifey had a chat with the BBC director, or possibly the producer. They were filming a new series, based on Professor MacCulloch’s thesis on what it means to be English. Called the ‘Making of the English’, or something similar, this will be aired on prime time BBC2.

The premise of the programme revolves around the concept of what it means to be English today. The backdrop is that for almost 1500 years, being English was shaped by Christianity, but this is now changing. With factors such as immigration creating a melting pot of religious belief, what does this mean in terms of being English today?

During the outdoor Service held in the Abbey ruins, I found myself sitting on the grass, amongst a couple of thousand of the faithful, and just a few metres away from Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch.

His film crew had gone home but MacCulloch remained for the Mass Service.

For the first time ever, I allowed myself to take part in the Sacrament of Anointing the Sick, and it was shortly after this, during a lull in proceedings, that wifey coaxed me to have a quick word with MacCulloch.

And so I did.

I began by apologising for accosting him unsolicited and said that I imagined this happened to him all the time. He just listened.

I continued that I wouldn’t be at this Catholic service if it wasn’t for his work. Now he seemed genuinely surprised.

Here’s what I wrote on this blog back in November, to give you some background on what I meant by saying this:

A couple of other factors have contributed to my decision [to convert to Catholicism]. Reading Diarmaid MacCulloch’s seminal work, ‘A History of Christianity.’ has given me a deep appreciation for all things prior reformation. The wonderful history and tradition of our ancient faith is something I greatly desire to ‘plug’ into.

I explained that I felt that modern Protestantism had sundered itself from this wonderful heritage. Again, he just listened.

I went on to say that through his work I saw the Catholic and Orthodox Church as two lungs of the ‘original’ and ‘true’ Church. Again he just listened without comment.

It’s worth noting at this point that I’m a quick-fire manic type of personality, and MacCulloch appears to be the opposite. I tend to fire off at the mouth, whereas he comes across as a measured and calm man, given to pondering and thinking.

It was then I dropped the clanger.

I said that I understood he himself wasn’t a believer, he responded saying that it was complex. I apologised and explained this is what the media portray, and he simply smiled.

Once upon a time I viewed faith as ‘cut and dried’ and ‘black and white’, there was absolutely no place for grey areas or complexities. Now it’s different and I completely understand when someone tells me ‘it’s complex’. My own faith is somewhat complex now.

As we shook hands, he genuinely and warmly thanked me for telling him the impact his work had on me. I thanked him for his work and left him in peace.

Diarmaid left shortly before the Eucharist.

So this is my new claim to fame, which happily replaces the previous one, which involved a high profile cast member of EastEnders asking me in a pub if I could access amphetamines for him.


10 Responses to “Guess who accosted Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch yesterday”

  1. Fr David Cloake Says:

    It has been my pleasure to become inebriated with Diarmaid on more than one occasion. He is an ordained man of faith damaged by the ebb and flow of the life of the church, and the outrageous fortunes of some of his dear friends. We share many values ecclesiologically (which become outrageously expressed when a couple of bottles of red have been consumed)

    I am glad that you met him. One of life’s perfect gentlemen, and it is a great honour to me that I can claim him as a little more than a passing acquaintance.

  2. Phoebs Says:

    I am praying for him. Diarmaid needs to come Home to Rome.
    Perhaps he just doesn’t realise it yet.

  3. Fr David Cloake Says:

    I think that perhaps he doesn’t.

  4. Anthony S. Layne Says:

    So how are you feeling now? I hope your spiritual crisis is resolving itself nicely.

  5. Lisa Graas » The Lord Works in Mysterious Ways…But Today, in Britain Says:

    [...] the pond, our friend Stuart had a chance providential encounter with a gentleman who was instrumental in his conversion to [...]

  6. Pete Phillips Says:

    Diarmaid was my tutor at theological college – Wesley College in Bristol. Brilliant man.

  7. Tim Says:

    Home to Rome? Or Home to Roam? Home is where the Heart is, and my Heart is in Heaven, and Heaven is within us and around us but invisible to our earthly eyes.

    Do you wish to share your spiritual crisis with us? We might be able to lift some of the load.

  8. Goy Says:

    Be careful with that adulation watched a TV excerpt of Professor MacCulloch teaching and was not impressed.

    Question for Professor MacCulloch was Christianity’s move East possibly as far as China a movement of choice as was implied, or were Christians forced towards East Asia by Islam?

  9. Bud Says:

    I appreciate your enthusiasm for MacColloch. But I’m surprised and saddened that you conclude in your earlier blog that ” MacCulloch is not a believer … and …not a Christian.” He does not exclude himself from Christianity, nor should anyone else, especially those of us who by custom or resolution approach the mysteries of faith by apophatic pathways.

  10. webmaster Says:

    Hi Bud, that’s a very fair criticism.

    If I remember rightly, I picked up that information elsewhere. I say that by way of explanation, not excuse.

    He does not exclude himself from Christianity, nor should anyone else, especially those of us who by custom or resolution approach the mysteries of faith by apophatic pathways.


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