Leaving Alexandria

Leaving Alexandria

A Memoir of Faith and Doubt

Richard Holloway, Text

Richard Holloway was raised in a working class family in Glasgow, Scotland. His father, called Wee Arthur, worked in a dye factory, “dyeing bales of cloth hour after hour; and I would wonder what colour he’d come home” each evening.

While not religious, because he could sing, the local Anglo-Catholic Rector co-opted him into the church choir when both were visiting “Cousin Mary”. A few months after his 14th birthday in 1948, he left his small town, Alexandria, in the west of Scotland and went to England, as he had been accepted by the Kelham Fathers (Society of the Sacred Mission) “to train for the Sacred Priesthood”.

He had left Alexandria.

Much later, Richard Holloway was to become the Bishop of Edinburgh, but in-between Kelham and Edinburgh he spent some time in Africa, served in three parishes — one of those in the USA — and fought openly and courageously in the Church courts on behalf of the disadvantaged, including gays and lesbians.

In 2000 he resigned as Bishop. Because of his writings and his stances he upset two Archbishops of Canterbury (both Runcie and Carey, neither of whom had authority over him: “the Scottish Church had never been an outpost of the Church of England”) and “a posse of Evangelical clergy in the diocese” who believed he was a heretic.

The latter called for his resignation. The Archbishop of South-East Asia (Singapore) “delivered a fatwa against Godless Morality”, one of Holloway’s books.

What had gone wrong? Holloway suggests: “I was a disappointment to them, a lost leader. Rather than sheltering them from the blast, I had broken open the windows and blown in the door … I knew it was time for me to leave them.”

This book is a great read. Holloway is passionate, believable, frank and honest. Each chapter is spiced with quotes from poetry, literature or films.

Throughout those chapters the theme of “leaving” is evident. Leaving Alexandria. Leaving the Kelham Fathers. Leaving Africa. Leaving the slums of Glasgow. Leaving Scotland. Leaving the USA. Leaving parish work. Leaving (throwing) his bishop’s mitre into the Thames. Leaving the episcopacy. Leaving ministry. Hence its title.

“Religion is human”, he writes, “and like humanity it is both a glory and a scandal … My real dilemma. I wanted to keep religion around … purged of the explanations that don’t explain, the science that does not prove, the morality that does not improve.”

I can relate to that!

Holloway’s has been a fascinating life. And meeting him in person in Canberra in 2008 was a personal honour.

Rex A. E. Hunt

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