Monday, 15 March 2010


An interesting report from the BBC here: Incense blamed for Chichester church-goer's collapse
I have a great deal of sympathy for those who have respiratory conditions which make it difficult for them to worship in a church which uses incense. Imagine having to find a spiritual home in a parish which doesn’t! I don't think I would complain to the local authority, though.
But I can't find much sympathy for those whose problems seem to be theological rather than medical. As Anglicans we come across them from time to time.
I completely agree with the Warden of my old theological college (alas, both no longer with us – again, one for medical reasons, the other theological) who characteristically pronounced that in the next life one has to get used to one of two smells, incense or sulphur.
Isn't it a shame the health and safety industry is such a recent invention? What a easy time the Reformers would have had banishing from our churches such dangerous and life threatening stuff as candles, incense and charcoal, not to mention insanitary things like holy water, and the veneration of images - no need for Royal Commissioners or axes and hammers (and the occasional public execution pour encourager les autres), just a ruling from the local council.
And, today, it can only be a matter of time before someone finds the crucifix, not idolatrous but so psychologically traumatising that it, too, has to go.
Idolatry isn’t the use of the material as a vehicle to see beyond ourselves to the Divine, it’s the refusal to see beyond ourselves at all.


  1. I remember reading the biography of the Catholic Bach (Johann Christian?)who lived in London and went to a Catholic church - in those days with a modest facade which did not announce its denomination - and there being mention of the incense as a necessity to deal with the smells that came from the congregation. The odour of sanctity masking the odours of...

    Perhaps we should now issue gas masks or tell the congregation to hold their breath (come to think of it, some congregations are already doing that)

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