A student-led service of Evening Prayer written in a camp gay slang known as polari, has led to recriminations and embarrassment for an English theological college. On 31 January 2017 students at Westcott House, a theological college affiliated with Cambridge University, prepared and celebrated a service in the college chapel entitled “An Order for Polari Evening Prayer in anticipation of LGBT+ History Month”.
The service leaflet stated the service was a “liturgical experiment” using “fringe” and “transgressive” language in worship. “It is an attempt at queering the liturgy of Evening Prayer, locating the queer within the compass of faith, and recovering for Christian tradition a sense of its own intrinsically subversive jouissance.”
The phrase “Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and the Holy Ghost,” for example, was rendered “Fabeness be to the Auntie, and to the Homie Chavvie, and to the Fantabulosa Fairy.”
Jesus was transformed into “Josie”, while the Lord became “Duchess”, as in “Praise ye the Duchess, the Duchess’s Name be praised.”
The principal of Westcott House, the Rev. Canon Christopher Chivers stated he was caught unawares by the service, with school staff and the congregation learning of the liturgical experiment when they were given the service leaflet.
“The service that was produced was completely at variance with the doctrine and teaching of the Church of England,” he said, noting the whole incident was “hugely regrettable”.
However, “Theological colleges are a place where experiments are important and mistakes can be made, because hopefully that means they won’t be made in public ministry. But it can’t be a place where we subvert the doctrine and teaching of the Church,” he said.
Originally the slang language used by showman, polari developed into a slang language of Britain’s gay subculture in the 1960s. It was popularized by actors Kenneth Williams (pictured) and Hugh Paddick in the BBC Radio comedy “Round the Horne”, and also appears in sketches from the Monty Python television show when depicting outrageous camp effeminate characters. However, by the 1970s its use in radio and television declined as it was thought to be a degrading characterization of homosexuals, in the same way dialect acts such as Amos and Andy denigrated African-Americans in the United States.