It started not with a kiss, but with a tweet. When I moved to London from Yorkshire in January 2013 I took to the platform with avidity bordering on mania. Here was the perfect way to be in touch with the people whose columns, pronouncements and screeds I devoured each day. So, like a particularly biddable labrador, I followed, followed and followed away. Occasionally, thrillingly, some of them followed back.
Skip two seasons to autumn of that year, which found me living in the basement flat of a clergy house off Holborn (a tale for a different day). Over the previous couple of months I’d come to know and be friends with the Daily Telegraph’s Tim Stanley. Our conversations turned, often and naturally, to religion. I was then a practising Anglo-Catholic, attending Mass daily, working for the charitable trust of a church rooted in that tradition, and with vanishingly rare thoughts of becoming what I would then have called a Roman Catholic. More usually, though, we talked of politics and culture, and Tim often retweeted my pronouncements on the latter.
Enter Damian Thompson [the Herald’s editor-in-chief]. Damian I had known of for some time as the then editor of Telegraph blogs, to which I was addicted, and as a gloriously spiky (a favourite word of his) writer on politics, culture and religion – my three joys. Thanks to Tim’s retweets, Damian now became aware of me. What’s more, he asked me to write for Telegraph blogs, after which the three of us met to discuss what I might write about. Instead, we spent the best part of two hours debating religion. Damian relished pointing out the absurdities of Anglo-Catholicism as he saw them.
I countered, as best I could, his gleeful onslaught. Tim, a former Baptist, atheist and Anglican, provided the nuance at which he is so gifted.
I have had many such conversations with Damian since, whether digitally or in person. They usually end, as on this occasion, with my feeling intellectually stimulated if somewhat bruised. There is no doubt, however, that this was the most important. Prior to our debate on that sunny Mayfair terrace I’d been content to suppress growing doubts about the legitimacy of my ecclesiastical position, accepting its paradoxes as part of the Anglican inheritance. Subsequently, the doubts gnawed at my mind and soul, eroding my resistance and leaving it a pathetic stump of nostalgia.
This process was accelerated by those Catholics, clerical and lay, fervent and doubting, to whom I’d been introduced by Twitter. Chief among them (Tim and Damian aside) were Professor Stephen Bullivant, director of the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society, whose clarity of thought and beauty of expression should be a model to all theologians; and the many writers, thinkers, priests and commentators with whom I became familiar thanks to the Catholic Herald.
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