Cyril is not a name that sounds very contemporary to me. To be honest, I don’t know anyone called Cyril. I had never even met anyone called Cyril until the other weekend when I attended a wedding which was taken by the Right Reverend Cyril Guy Ashton, who when he isn’t taking weddings in other people’s churches is known as the Bishop of Doncaster.
To be accurate he is known as the Suffragan Bishop, Doncaster. I confess to having encountered the word suffragan even less than I have encountered people called Cyril, so I looked it up, and it appears to mean a deputy, and only applies to bishops; hence you can’t have, for example, a Suffragan CEO.
In which case, why do you need the word bishop as well as the word suffragan? Surely we could have Cyril, Suffragan of Doncaster? And I am not sure I understand what distinguishes a deputy bishop from his boss, in Cyril’s case the rather jolly-sounding Bishop Jack, Bishop of Sheffield. As a suffragan, I understand, Cyril has “administrative and episcopal responsibilities but no jurisdictional functions”. I don’t know what other functions he has but he is pretty good at taking weddings.
I say this on the basis of only one sampling of a Cyril wedding, but it was compelling evidence.
His ability to put everyone, the happy couple included, at their ease, to make everyone feel included (even with quite a large congregation) and to inject humour into the proceedings without ever letting us forget that this was a serious occasion, were skills I thought would not be out of place in the leadership of a public company. (He did toy with accountancy at one point in his career, so he might have made a good finance director!)
If I were the Archbishop of Canterbury, who arguably is the CEO that the Queen has put in charge of the Church of England, I would put Cyril in charge of the department that is charged with raising church attendance. His particular brand of ministry strikes me as something that many people would relate to.
You can find out some interesting things about Cyril on the internet (including, by the way, the fact that he doesn’t look at all old-fashioned and is interested in classic cars and motorbikes), even an e-mail address that may or may not still work. This last I found rather incongruous, even for someone who wrote their masters thesis on the theology of the Roman Catholic Church. What was any minister thinking of when they signed up with Virgin as an ISP?
Unexpected but intriguing encounters recently have not been restricted to meeting someone called Cyril. I found myself in a club near Paddington Station the other day attending a farewell party for friends of mine who are moving overseas. It is called the Frontline Club and was founded by someone I have never met, a man called Vaughan Smith, an ex-army officer who with two others had previously established a company of the same name to sell news footage from dangerous parts of the world.
Most famous in his world for masquerading as a British officer to get the only uncensored footage of the Gulf war, in 2003 Smith started the Frontline Club to support those journalists, cameramen and photographers throughout the world who risk their lives in the course of their work.
On one level, it’s an intimate little club in a Paddington backwater with an award-winning restaurant that is open to the public. But that is as useful a description as merely telling you that Cyril Ashton is a Church of England minister. Walking up the stairs - past framed newspaper front pages from conflicts past and present, and photographs that were been brought to the world from some of the most dangerous battlegrounds of modern times - I was moved to stand and take a few minutes to think of those whose very nature causes them to take enormous personal risk in the interest of bringing back independent footage or photographs from these events. Several people who have been associated with either the company or the club in their brief history have already lost their lives.
I am not a “real” journalist, in the sense that this is not how I earn a living; and most of the journalists I encounter in my daily life are doing nothing more dangerous than risking a heart attack by reporting on some of the pay packages of our business leaders; but it is worth remembering that there is a whole other breed out there who you are unlikely to meet propping up the bars of the Square Mile.
I stood and gazed at the iconic (and Pulitzer-prize winning) photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal, who died on Sunday aged 94, of American troops raising the flag on Mount Suribachi during the battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. As I studied it a thought struck me: I have only seen that photograph in a frame once before - and that was in a meeting room in the City.
Sadly, the recent Israeli-Hizbollah conflict was a reminder that there continues to be plenty of opportunity for Frontline members, and those who share their values, to work in very dangerous circumstances. I can’t help but think that if there were more people like Cyril, not only in the churches but also in the mosques and synagogues of the world, there might not be so much of that opportunity. A thought, perhaps, that is not very contemporary.