Often in the Church we think that our traditions go back centuries. “We’ve always done it this way” you hear people say. I remember introducing a Gospel procession when I was a sacristan, and within a year people had forgotten it had been any other way, and that included some servers! This always reminds me of Edward King, Bishop of Lincoln (1885-1910).
King was the son of an Archdeacon and the Grandson of the Bishop of Rochester.
Having studied at Oriel College, Oxford King was ordained in 1854 and four years later became chaplain to Ripon Collage Cuddeston (Then Cuddeston Theological College). In 1873 Prime Minister Gladstone appointed him Regius Professor of Pastoral Theology at Oxford and Cannon of Christ Church.
Whilst at Oxford he was one of the principal founders of St. Stephen’s House, Oxford, a prominent High Church theological college. It was at this time that a local Oxford vicar criticised his writings for being too ‘Romish.’
I visited St. Stephens House back in 2017 and went on a short tour with other guests. The eager student, now Fr. Nathan Mulcock, Chaplain to Mansfield Collage, showed me King’s mitre. Legend has it, the first used since the reformation. Nathan told us that there is a saying among the students; whoever tries King’s mitre on, will never be a Bishop. I responded “Oh Good! Pass it here!” there was a chuckle and Nathan put it away, but I was serious!
When Gladstone was re-elected as Prime Minister, he invited King to become Bishop of Lincoln. It was while Bishop of Lincoln that a Churchwarden from Cleethorpes complained about King tolerating ‘ritualistic practices’ this was to be settled, as things often are, by a lawsuit.
To avoid King having to appear before the Crown Court Archbishop Benson revived his own archiepiscopal court, which had been inactive since 1699.
Those practices were: making the sign of the Cross at the blessing and the absolution, use of candles on the altar, mixing of water with the communion wine, performing ‘manual acts’ upon the host (making the sign of the cross over the communion wafer), the use of unleavened bread for communion and facing east (away from the congregation) during the prayer of consecration.
As we can see many of these practices are now commonplace, but to many at the time they were at best unwanted novelty, at worst, ‘Popeish’ superstitions.
In what became known as the “Lincoln Judgement” Archbishop Benson allowed the use of candles, wine and water in the chalice, as well as facing east, but directed that any ‘manual acts’ should be performed in such a way that the people can see them.
But his episcopacy wasn’t all controversy. He voted himself to pastoral work, particularly among the rural and urban poor as well as prisoners.
Archbishop Lang described him as the most saintly of men, and the most human of saints.
King Died on the 8th March 1910 and the Church of England remembers him in their calendar to this day.
Fr. Paul Wheeler