Wednesday, 30 December 2009
Then she presented me with a little Plasticine cross. "You can hold it when you're dead", she informed me cheerfully, "Or having breakfast".
Friday, 25 December 2009
Apparently at Hornington next door they employed incense as well; the celebrant, much to his surprise, was censed with a total of 27 swings of the censer, nine in front, and nine to either side. I thought six (three 'doubles') was the standard. There'll be none of that high-church nonsense for Swanvale Halt, obviously.
I was exhausted, but had agreed to help at the Christmas Lunch for the Otherwise Alone at Hornington, in the capacity of nosh-wallah and dishwasher, under the impression that all the local clergy turn out for this ecumenical effort. 'Oh yes', one of the older hands informed me yesterday, 'All the new incumbents think that, and then discover that nobody else is there at all'. Then when I arrived I was assigned not to the kitchen but to a table instead: facing another three hours of social interaction, of trying to think of things to say, of performance on top of all the performance of the previous day, week in fact, and not quite four hours' sleep. I locked myself in the lavatory to cry for a minute, and then gritted my teeth and got on with it. You might expect the outcome to be that I enjoyed myself after all, but it wouldn't be true. I only hope Jesus is grateful, because I'm not doing it for any other reason.
At college my S.D. thought it was a good sign that when I needed to scream I went to the Chapel. And this Christmas Day my response was to go to the church and say Evening Prayer, very early. At a toddlers' service a week ago I got the families to write prayers on paper stars, after we'd all told my old bear, Tedwin, the Christmas story. So I sat with the prayer stars, prayed through them and burned them one by one, until I came across the star that read, obviously an adult writing for a child, 'That Tedwin goes to the Angel's house'. I am fond of Tedwin, and was more than touched that a child decided to pray for him - though I'm not completely sure what the angel's house is. This isn't the first time a childish act of kindness has shot through just at the darkest moment.
Tuesday, 22 December 2009
Last week I went to the cathedral to make my confession for Advent. My penance was to say Psalm 8, and only the Book of Common Prayer is available in the cathedral pews. Here's part of the psalm in the Common Worship translation:
O Lord our governor,
how glorious is your name in all the world!
Your majesty above the heavens is praised
out of the mouths of babes at the breast.
You have founded a stronghold against your foes
that you might still the enemy and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have ordained,
what is man, that you should be mindful of him;
the son of man, that you should seek him out?
You have made them little lower than the angels,
and crown them with glory and honour.
And this is the same text from Miles Coverdale's 16th-century rendering:
O Lord our governor,
how excellent is thy name in all the world:
thou that hast set thy glory above the heavens!
Out of the mouth of very babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength, because of thine enemies:
that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
For I will consider thy heavens, even the works of thy fingers:
the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained.
What is man, that thou art mindful of him:
and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
Thou madest him lower than the angels:
to crown him with glory and worship.
I sat and prayed very slowly through this antique text which, because it occurs quite often in the modern Office, I know almost by heart. And the subtleties of Coverdale's language threw into relief a whole set of different themes which I hadn't seen were there. For instance, God makes babes and sucklings speak for him precisely in order to still the powerful and vengeful, as though they can only be defeated by him deliberately using the weak and lowly things of the earth, a sense which is completely lost in the changes in sentence-order in the modern version. Again, in the modern translation human beings are simply made lower than the angels, and then crowned with glory; in the old one, the glorification of man is a consequence of his lowliness, and his humbleness a necessary condition of his glory. The modern text seems to have one meaning; it speaks with a single voice. The Tudor one is multivocal, full of ambiguities, partly because of its very obscurity. It's ambiguity that gives poetry its power; suddenly, I can see why the poetic-minded tend to prefer the subtle strangeness of Coverdale, Cranmer and the King James Version to the clarity and accuracy of latter-day scholars.
Wednesday, 16 December 2009
Thursday, 10 December 2009
... what you mustn't do is leave the back door open ...
... or Gothically-minded folk with cameras ...
Wednesday, 9 December 2009
Friday, 4 December 2009
- Slavish devotion to his/her master
- A preference for the shadows
- A silent tread
- The ability to remember things everyone else has forgotten, in particular the location of interred cadavers
- A degree in necromancy, witchcraft, or similar
- A voice resembling the late Peter Lorre
- A limp
- Own cloak of secrecy
Accommodation provided in church cellar. Gruel and rat allowance. Terms on application.
Apply to: The Rectory, Swanvale Halt, Surrey.
It's almost worth paying the fee.
Thursday, 3 December 2009
At Lamford I used to take a service in one of the care homes which grew out of visiting one of the residents individually: that seemed to make sense, and usually, until near the end of my time there, there were a couple of folk who were sufficiently compos mentis to make it all seem worthwhile. But at least at Swanvale Halt the residents seem cheerful and placid. At Lamford numbers of them couldn't stand each other. One day George kept asking, very forcefully, whether he could 'go back to Ashford!' 'Shut up, George, it's church!!' Cis shouted back at him.
Monday, 30 November 2009
More to the point - it's brown. What liturgical season uses brown? I asked and got the answer that it was made for use in Autumn, not in itself a season I thought the liturgical year included.
Part of the point of the incarnation of God the Son is that human beings, individual, real human beings with names and histories, are important because we bear his stamp and something of his nature. We glimpse God in each other. Still, I have a rush of discomfort that the church may focus too much of its attention on me and my personality (to which part of me is tempted to play up) rather than on the One for whom it exists, and this may only get more extreme when the curate leaves. The priest is key to the church community, but has to work to keep their centrality within proper bounds.
Saturday, 21 November 2009
As it should for all Christian ministers who know what a vestment is (but necessarily what to put on it). The point is not just queeny fussing about tat looking right; it's what the blog author says across the top of his site, 'Christian worship isn't supposed to be about you'.
Saturday, 14 November 2009
Somewhere beyond the crowd of people on the right were the rather fabulous strings-and-electronica duo The McCarricks. Well, you can tell something's happening.
You may have noticed I haven't photographed any of the art. Apart from some moody photographs of Nunhead Cemetery I found it all a bit bemusing, to be frank. Below you can see the aftermath of a performance of which I only caught a glimpse: it involved somebody writhing on the floor under a black cloth.
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
Saturday, 7 November 2009
Now there is email. Anyone can throw a word or two together, attach a string of relevant (or less relevant) documents, reply instantly to anything you have sent them, any time of the day they choose. And, unless you are very disciplined indeed, the messages gather, pile, cram against the day the Lord has made like drifted snow, but not so pretty.
To reduce the general levels of mania, I am wresting control of my email inbox. I will check emails, I tell myself, only at specified points three times a day, when I will either reply and delete, print the documents there and then, and delete, or shove the message into a pending tray if it requires more thought. Will I keep it up? Well, I must do something.
I sent a message to a clerical colleague today only to have an automated reply telling me he only checks his emails 'at the start of the week'. Would we could all be so bold. And get away with it.
Friday, 30 October 2009
Only the occupants of one of the houses seem to have taken the name to heart, and have a gargoyle on the wall and a pentangle in an upper window. Of course I will have to call, and enquire after their spiritual welfare.
Thursday, 29 October 2009
The other day I was at a meeting of one of the many overlapping groups which constitute the inter-church relationships of which Swanvale Halt is part. I don't know why I felt so alienated: but for whatever reason it quickly escalated into contempt, cynicism, and anger. Every organisation needs to ask itself from time to time whether it's doing too much or having too many meetings; but this was more. All the good work being described was swamped in my mind by a spiralling mist of anger, even as I fought to combat it. As we reached the end and someone else was leading prayers I barely, barely restrained myself from grabbing a teacup and throwing it across the room. Where did such violent feelings come from?
I had something else to deal with almost immediately, thankfully involving somebody completely uninvolved with the Church. I came home and adopted a threefold strategy, of reading (that is, re-entering my comfort zone which I control and understand), of praying and having a sleep. I came to the conclusion that most of my problem, shamefully, was not being in control of the event. There is obviously a deep rupture in my makeup somewhere which is triggered by feeling exposed and powerless. The Noonday Demon is preparing me for this: laying open the genealogy of 'bad thoughts', which is what it means to battle with the powers and principalities.
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Monday, 26 October 2009
Friday, 16 October 2009
As well as the Victorian gargoyles (dubbed by some earlier visitors Brother Jeremiah and Sister Agnes) there are two disapproving clerical portraits to keep guests in line.
The restored shrine of St Thomas at Hereford Cathedral has a very pleasing medieval garishness. Overall I preferred Hereford to the correct grandeur of the Abbey at Tewkesbury.
A day out took me within a couple of miles of Tintern Abbey, which I couldn't miss for its honoured place in the history of Romanticism. I was too late to get in - but to be honest all I needed was a photo or two. It's difficult now, looking at the ruins tamed and ringed with walls and roads like a lion in a zoo enclosure, to imagine how they must have appeared to Wordsworth and his ilk.
Then there was Tyntesfield, the great Gothic revival mansion in north Somerset recently opened by the National Trust. The chapel is a glorious Tractarian jewelbox, but the rest of it, undergoing frantic restoration, is virtually invisible beneath a cage of scaffolding. Only now and again can you catch a glimpse of the occasional arch or mullion.
I also made it to the Picturesque landscapes of Piercefield and Downton, which I'll add to the Gothic Gardens page on the website.
Saturday, 10 October 2009
This Melpomene has some Classical flavour but transforms it into something haunting and strange:
Timothy Lantz's image, one of a series on the Nine Muses, turns the personification of Tragedy into an image not only of drama but of decay, doom and sensuality.
But what I found most interesting was the modern artists who seem instinctively to think of Melpomene as a Goth girl. I wonder why ...
In troop the children and assorted teachers, parents, grandparents and tiny siblings. All goes wonderfully as they present their gifts and do their little turns. Then comes the 'talk'. The headmistress beams expectantly at me. Ah.
I then go into five minutes of complete insanity tearing round the church asking the children about their favourite foods. They rather suspiciously all seem to like vegetables although one says pasta. I realise that I am starting to descend into lunacy as my discussion of trout becomes far too detailed and curtail the madness.
Do anything in church with enough authority and you can get away with it. But it's not a habit one should get into, I suspect.
Monday, 5 October 2009
I'm not convinced churches with only two paid staff benefit from 'staff meetings' as though we were a private company. At Lamford what we were pleased to call 'staff meetings' consisted of me, Il Rettore, the organist and the secretary quaffing coffee in the comfy seats in the café along the street while the parish's assorted layabouts swapped jokes in the opposite corner. The closest I can get in Swanvale Halt is to take the curate to the coffee stall at the railway station and sit on a bench. At least that got us away from the church! And I'm not sure there's much to talk about. I don't have a Grand Plan as yet, apart from celebrating the liturgy in a dignified way and personal engagement.
The latter is where I mustn't fall down. So for the time being I will stick to individual meetings with various people, and see how it goes. But discovering I could conceivably be the cause of frustration is humbling.
Friday, 25 September 2009
Now it was revealed to me that the 'sunrise service' is an ecumenical effort assembled by all the local churches. Of course being an ecumenical event it can include nothing more committed than hymns and prayers - all ecumenical services are nothing but hymns and prayers because anything else will annoy someone, and most of the time you're not completely safe even with them. The full Paschal Liturgy therefore cannot happen in any of our local churches, and it's just assumed that I will sign up to this. Breaking ranks will turn me into the anti-ecumenical monster, the big bad bigot who won't play the game. I could live with that, but I can't put our evangelically-minded curate in the position of having to pick loyalties. So the restoration will almost certainly have to wait.
Monday, 21 September 2009
Outside in common with many Scottish kirks is a wonderfully grim graveyard. There was plenty of fun to be had, even in the appalling rain, but my favourite was this little skellie peeping out from beneath a fallen urn to see whether it was safe:
In fact last night's service was just about bearable, because it was relatively short and you knew what was going to happen. There used to be a couple of attenders who played instruments rather than as we did listening to the chants on CD, and I imagine a flute or violin would have helped, but I remain unconvinced that a handful of middle-aged, middle-class Anglicans sat on plastic chairs trying to get the hang of these strange, often inconclusive tunes can ever replicate the atmosphere of thousands of pilgrims at Taizé itself led by the monks. I think what people need is Benediction. In fact, for the service they put our benediction candelabra on the altar, but clearly don't know what they're for - they're just pretty. God has a sense of humour.
Wednesday, 16 September 2009
My first week at Swanvale Halt left me feeling agitated and uneasy, mainly at the feeling of being slotted into a pre-existing round of engagements and activities that I've played no part in developing. But as I thought it might the Mass on Sunday made things suddenly feel very different. Here I was doing the thing I was sent to the parish to do among the people I'm supposed to care for and pray for. I poured all the frustrations, such as they are, into the chalice for Jesus to deal with, and they were drowned in the wine - even if, thanks to the swine-flu regulations, we're only using a dribble.
Last night somebody I was at college with phoned me. He's gaily taking his windswept Yorkshire parish back forty years and having vast fun doing so - reintroducing weekly Evensong, unbleached candles for the Requiem Mass, hymns they haven't sung for a generation - and they think it's marvellous. He said the other Sunday, 'Aren't you lucky to have such a young, trendy, forward-looking Rector?'
Wednesday, 9 September 2009
On my first day I was only made incandescent with rage the once, largely because slightly too many things were being framed to me in the terms 'this is what we do' rather than 'this is what we've done till now, do you mind carrying on?' which would have got my back up rather less. To a degree this is mutual insecurity: I'm especially sensitive to being told what to do because I'm unsure of my ground, while some people are unsure of me and so sensitive in the other direction.
I went to see my spiritual director whose house I'd been staying in before the move. 'Everyone said you were very untidy,' he informed me, 'I think we need to work on this. Of course in the old days the answer would have been to get a tidy wife, but that's rather frowned on these days'.
He told me two things I found interesting (three if you count his being denounced by the Bishop of Rochester as 'a very dangerous man', which I suggested should go on the cover of his forthcoming book). There was the story of the former vicar of St George's Bickley who covered all the windows of the church in black velvet so it was pitch-dark inside and replaced all the altar furniture with silver stuff. It must have looked like something run by the Church of Satan. In a similar vein, S.D. recently conducted a house-blessing using the full-works Rituale Romanum form with separate exorcisms of salt and water before they are co-mingled and then blessed again to make the holy water for the blessing itself. The lady houseowner was very pleased. 'I do so love the Book of Common Prayer', she said. Curiously she opened all the cupboards in the house to be blessed but not the fridge. We concluded that it must now be positively throbbing with demons.
This afternoon at my new Deanery Chapter I heard another good line. One of the parishes is facing the decision not to use one of its two churches, naturally a very controversial question among the non-churchgoers of the village concerned. 'But that's the church they don't go to,' said the priest in charge of one of the neighbouring parishes, 'It just wouldn't be the same not going to a completely different church'.
Monday, 7 September 2009
Among this category we have a marble bust which now graces the staircase hall. When the sun is out in the afternoon, it shines very pleasingly through the thin folds of her hood.
Then there's this delightful chair which I discovered at an antique shop near Hampton Court. I've never seen anything like it, and while it was somewhat more expensive than one might ideally prefer, the chance to have a black Victorian Gothic chair in my house, complete with spikes and pinnacles, was too good to pass up.
But the triumph of the whole exercise came when I was looking for a cake stand. Afternoon tea is a fine institution which needs reviving and support, and a cake stand is simply essential if this is to occur. I visited one antique shop with this in mind and found a tree-tier Edwardian cake stand for about £40. OK, I thought. Then I found another for about £30. Then, hiding away in an obscure room near the room of the rambling emporium, for a mere £16, was this.
I had no thought that such a thing might exist. I assume the bargain price was because whoever did the pricing assumed nobody would be mad enough to want to buy a black ebonised cake stand.
Wednesday, 2 September 2009
I spent two months holed up in a room at the Deanery, in His Majesty the Dean's absence. In fact for almost all the time I had the run of the place - a rather extensive place, as it happens - which felt like nothing so much as a rather superior holiday let. I was desperately concerned about killing the Dean's cat, but to my relief found that it had in fact had the good grace to die some time before.
I took the odd service at the Cathedral when nobody else was around, and elsewhere. A college friend died of a brain tumour and I took his funeral and memorial service, which went OK. I heard my first confession. I enjoyed being on Light Duties.
I was, after all, appointed Rector of Swanvale Halt, to which position I ascend on the 7th of September. I moved out of the Deanery and into my rather lovely Rectory, about which more at some other time. Now I'm squeezing my final few days of liberty visiting friends and doing fun things before Real Life returns.
Monday, 8 June 2009
Yesterday was, of course, the great final day 'on duty'. I presided at the 10am mass. Owing to some strange oversight, we ended up with five babies being baptised, when we try to limit the numbers to three. The church was packed and chaotic and regular congregation members were reduced to bringing in chairs from the Hall, as though it was Christmas. As we were assembling I was confronted with a phalanx (well, say eight) of Guides and Brownies having forgotten we'd agreed to parade their banners. In the event, it worked out fine. The babies emitted nary so much as a whine (let alone anything more physical), and silence fell when silence was required.
Afterwards, naturally, we had The Do. I was serenaded with a comic song about my hats, composed by the Director of Music, and deluged with presents and well-wishing before we moved on to a lovely buffet lunch - yes, there was the obligatory Anglican quiche. I had the same conversation about my future about thirty times, I should really have kept count.
People's gratitude is astounding. An American family who are leaving the parish all came for the first time in ages, together with the young man I prepared for confirmation three years ago along with their son. The Best Dressed Woman in Lamford whose house I blessed gave me a bag of presents so exquisitely wrapped in purple and black that I should have taken a photograph. And the troubled man who's recently started coming thanked me 'for all your help' when all I've done is have a couple of conversations with him at the church door. People see their own goodness reflected back in priests - but I suppose that's part of what priesthood means. My other reflection is that I feel oddly relaxed about it. Coming back from my secondment in February was a strange experience, and these last couple of months have felt like a hiatus. The process of detachment from Lamford has been going on a long while.
Now all my things are in boxes, and professionals will be looking after them. It's not what I wanted, but perhaps it will do me good.
Tuesday, 2 June 2009
I took my final Assembly at school today, and talked about goodbyes, Jesus saying goodbye to the disciples, and what heaven might be like.
Dante for six-year-olds. It's the way forward.
Friday, 15 May 2009
Thursday, 14 May 2009
During the Clergy Conference I was determined to find out what was happening after my visit to the parish to meet the curate, only formally-instituted churchwarden, and a layperson who acts as 'unwarden'. The first words anyone spoke to me at the conference were those of the Archdeacon: 'I don't know anything'. It turned out that, although the curate felt she could work with me, the Archdeacon thought the Rural Dean was going to ask the laypeople what they thought, while the Rural Dean thought the Archdeacon was going to. It never occurred to the laypeople that they should volunteer an opinion. So nobody knew anything at all.
Yesterday I called the Archdeacons' secretary, who is the only person in the entire diocese who seems capable of pulling a finger out of wherever the fingers of preternaturally inactive yet chronically busy people normally are. Apparently the laypeople did like me, and want me to come for an interview. However it isn't clear whether this means on my own, or as part of a group, which naturally I would prefer to avoid as while I may be the best available candidate for Swanvale Halt in the diocese, I doubt I am the best in the entire Church of England. I refrained from asking why this wasn't ascertained in the first place. So we continue to wait.
Friday, 8 May 2009
Friday, 1 May 2009
The interview process was all desperately jolly, and in fact the parishioners were so keen to erode their church's reputation for being a bit stuffy that at times they ventured into the outskirts of hysteria. First I and my two competitors were shown, separately, round the church, churchyard (which is still open for burials), and vicarage (stripped bare apart from a few of the carpets which will also have to go since, I was informed, the former incumbent's dogs wee-ed on them). We were then whooshed around the parish to visit the primary school, dramatic castellated public school (like a miniature Wycombe Abbey) and technical college, before 'meeting the team' over tea and cake; I was introduced to a spectacular retired priest with a plum jacket and gravity-defying bouffant hair. Then we were billetted on various parishioners to relax for half an hour before 'trial by lasagne', otherwise known as supper with the PCC. The following morning was the interview itself, an hour of what amounted to concentrated spiritual analysis which I really don't want to repeat any time soon.
Frankly Aybourne, rather like Lamford, has had too much cash sloshing around in the past. The current vicarage is impressive enough, with soaring ceilings and rooms whose purpose is not really entirely clear. But it was preceded by this building, the Old Rectory, a structure so colossal it makes the Old Rectory in Lamford look like a chalet:
It now houses an entire junior school. The story goes that the then incumbent became Lord of the Manor unexpectedly after his elder brother died, and decided (suddenly having the money) to rebuild the church, in the process moving it to a more comfortable distance from his house. After all, Poor People might turn up, in theory.
The Church of Jesus Christ is always, inescapably, penetrated by the values of the world, but it seldom becomes so spectacular on a local level as it does (or once did) in Aybourne.
Saturday, 25 April 2009
At home, I took a gin out on 'the terrace' and sat for a read, listening to the single mum and daughter next door talking about tea and admiring the apple blossom. I have been very happy these last four years in my little house. All in all, I am very blessed and privileged. I wonder whether 'real life' is about to begin?
Tuesday, 21 April 2009
However I did learn something from the experience. It upset me very radically: that night I had a series of bad dreams, which I don't normally suffer from, and I didn't work out why until the middle of Monday. I walked along an ordinary Lamford street watching happy people going about their lives, the blossom on the trees, the bright sun on the gardens, and at once the confusion in my mind escalated until it seemed the sun was black and the landscape screaming: the same experience that produced The Scream in Edvard Munch. This was the shadow of the wing of madness, a world in which there are no rules and the rational mind can get no purchase. What I'm really afraid of is going mad.
Friday, 17 April 2009
The bacon and sausages at breakfast were a cut above the usual fare, though.
All the Holy Week services have had slightly higher attendances this year, with the exception of Mid-Day Prayers on Holy Saturday (which only attracts a handful anyway) and, strangely, the 10am Mass on Easter Day, which was noticeably down. 244 communicants last year and about 300-320 in church, 217 this out of a congregation of about 250-70. Nothing to do afterwards, thankfully.
This will be my last Easter in Lamford as my curacy comes to an end. Next year it will be - somewhere else.
Tuesday, 7 April 2009
So many of our moral decisions are structurally the same as this. I was reminded of a couple of weeks ago when I had to decide whether to go for a parish I'd been asked to look at, once I leave Lamford; I didn't want to, but wondered whether I ought to, and couldn't see a clear way forward. The elements are the same: instinct points in one direction, a sense of duty in another, advice is perhaps unanimous but not satisfying, and the one thing that would enable us to decide without any ambiguity or regret - knowing what's going to happen if we take one course of action or the other - is the one thing we have no access to. Those of us who are believers want God to tell us what he would like us to do, but he very seldom does, and in the end we have to risk those indeterminate futures, plump for one thing or the other, and deal with the consequences. Might be right, might be wrong, God help us. Quite literally. It will all be revealed in the end, but until then - we live with it.
Sunday, 5 April 2009
The hysterical atmosphere kept going for the 10am: it looked as though an elderly member of the congregation was about to peg out and had to be wheeled to the hall for restorative coffee, and at the other end of the scale a little girl fell over on the steps. Place is a death trap. Other than that, it went very well. We don't have a Procession of Palms, but more of a Solemn Entrance. The Choir carry on to their stalls while the altar party halts at the font for the Blessing of the Palms, and then the liturgy proceeds. The Passion Gospel was read by sundry laypeople, Pilate in the pulpit, the Evangelist at the lectern, and Jesus in front of the altar, with the aid of standing mikes. I got Stan, a retired teacher and the only male voice in the group, to read the Evangelist: in the rehearsal he actually choked up with emotion, God bless him. For the last few Sundays we've been a bit depleted but were back up to 200 or so this morning, and lots of people receiving blessings rather than taking communion - encouraging in a way, because it means they're not cradle-Christians but are taking it seriously.
Saturday, 4 April 2009
I have the dubious privilege of being a publicly-identifiable Christian; head-to-toe black and a dog-collar aren't exactly clothes to hide behind. I notice quite often from passers-by looks that I think include suspicion and confusion. The church in Lamford doesn't hide itself, either: you can see the spire over half the parish, so the institution is unescapable. What do the vast majority of our parishioners, who never come nearer the place than the path along the High Street, think of the place, or of the God behind it? Do they resent it? Is this a growing feeling?
The time has gone by when Christians deserved automatic deference and respect. Society no longer believes in truth, and Christians are no more than a nominal majority. By our insistence that society owes us something, that we deserve (and in fact need) to be sheltered from criticism, satire, and abuse, when nobody else is granted the same privilege, all we do is arouse more hostility from the majority - even that nominally Christian one - which regards such privileges as unjustifiable. If people want to be rude to us, that's their own business. Time to shut up.
Friday, 3 April 2009
Tuesday, 31 March 2009
We have the Bishop coming to Lamford this Easter Day to baptise and confirm about a dozen people from the parish. At 6am. And he volunteered.Anyway. This Sunday morning at quarter to 8 Il Rettore bursts into the sacristy to announce that the confirmation register is missing. 'Where did you put it?' 'What, you mean two years ago?' I respond in an instantly ill temper. Rettore then races round for ten minutes trying to find the errant document. I really didn't think it was the time for a search, but most of my irritation arose from the guilty thought that I might, indeed, have lost the thing. Could I have left it at the cathedral after the confirmations in 2007? No, they failed to find it in their lost property box yesterday. (There was one from another church, however).
This afternoon I spotted a box behind another box under a desk in the photocopier room in the parish centre and there, among obselete liturgical books and Bibles nobody bothers to read, was a telltale glimpse of green binding. The register is found. Not before we bought another one, of course. It was moved along with all the other stuff from the church during our electrical works 18 months ago. Of such details is parish life composed, and our little sins and repentances.
There's little enlightening for most of us in this: we've heard the arguments before, too. But I was very struck by Dr Dawkins's very visceral observations on the fact that, in the end, your attitude to Christianity resolves into what you think happened to Jesus of Nazareth to make people believe he had been resurrected. He talked less of its truth or untruth and more of its wrongness, using words like 'petty', 'narrow', parochial', 'small'. He resents setting his grand vision of the interlocking logic of the Darwinian cosmos alongside something so historically bounded. Next to the boundless majesty of the heavens, Christianity is monstrous because its truthfulness rests on one person and one set of events in one place at one time. That Dr Dawkins actually showed some signs of passionate engagement at this point is very revealing. It's fascinating to engage with what atheists feel rather than what they say they think.
Then again, this same lady told me in all seriousness that Elmham has a black Latin chasuble hand-made for it by Queen Victoria from knicker material. Now I can't imagine how that story got going, given that it outrages everything we know about the good Queen-Empress.
Clergy sometimes do get a bit skittish, and perhaps these legends have a clerical origin. This week it was my turn to assemble the weekly newsletter. I didn't know what anthem the choir would be singing, so sent it to the office with the instruction to check with our Director of Music. In a moment of weakness I'd filled the gap with 'Popeye the Sailor Man' by Charpentier. The Rector had his own moment of weakness, translated the title into French as 'Grosyeux le Matelot', and left it. ONE PERSON in the congregation noticed.