Editor: Happily, the Church of England still retains some singular parish clergy. Take the parish of St James-the-Least in the county of C- for example. Here the elderly Anglo-Catholic vicar, Eustace, continues his correspondence to Darren, his nephew, a low-church curate recently ordained… A humorous series by the Rev Dr Gary Bowness
July 2018 [2 issues this month]
On the perils of the Ladies’ Guild annual outing…
St James the Least of All
My dear Nephew Darren
And so once again we start the annual round of parish treats. While the bell-ringers prefer public houses, and the choirboys want fast food outlets, the Ladies’ Guild are centred on lavatories. The itinerary is unchangeable: Coach drive to coffee stop and lavatory. Coach drive to luncheon stop and lavatory. Coach drive to some arbitrary attraction – provided it has a tea shop and lavatory. Coach trip home with a lavatory (stop en route).
A sub-committee will have been hard at work for the previous six months deciding where to visit. The most disastrous course of action is to present the group with a choice; if two options are provided, they will attract almost equal numbers in favour, thus ensuring that half of the group will rejoice in saying throughout the day that the other option would have been preferable. When it comes to decision-making, Stalin had a lot going for him.
My predecessor in this parish left me a terrible legacy; he always accompanied the Guild on their day out, thus obliging me to do the same. I do, however, travel equipped with armaments. “The Times” crossword rules out any possibility of conversation for at least the first two hours. Three years ago, Mrs Phillips had the audacity to look over my shoulder and give me 12 across; she will not make that mistake again. A brief nap after these
intellectual exertions, assuring those around me that I am meditating on the theme for next Sunday’s sermon, ensures a morning almost free from having to comment on the weather, other members of the party, or why I so rarely drop in on the Pram Service.
The ideal destination is one where I have a clerical colleague, so while the ladies wander about, shop and analyse why I still wear the same suit I arrived in 30 years ago, we have an agreeable afternoon assassinating the characters of bishops and archdeacons and bemoaning the standards of a new generation of curates. After our different therapies, we all re-assemble at the coach for the return journey.
Naturally, there is the traditional wait for those who have forgotten where the coach park is. As far as I am concerned, a deficit of less than 10% should be entirely acceptable. I can think of several husbands who may be rather thankful that their wives may not be back as soon as they had feared.
Our ladies return, invigorated with the thought of all the bits of information about other members in the party that can be discreetly shared over the telephone, while I am exhausted from 12 hours of attempting to be polite. Meanwhile the sub-committee gets a date in the diary for planning next year’s lavatorial sequence.
Your loving uncle,
On church tourists and outrageous lies
St. James the Least
My dear Nephew Darren
I was sorry to hear of the dawn call by the police because your church had been broken into, although the theft of tambourines, books of choruses and banners proclaiming "Jesus wants me for a Sunbeam" are likely to have a limited market. But you are fortunate that those are the only unexpected call-outs you receive.
Those of us with ancient churches are resigned to receiving telephone calls from people living in remote corners of the globe who happen to be on holiday in England and want to trace long-lost relatives who were married or buried in our parishes. They invariably seem amazed when they find you are not personally familiar with someone who died 400 years ago, what family still exists, where they live and what interesting anecdotes you know about their ancestors - preferably something criminal. Any attempts to put them off will be deflected by being told that they fly home tomorrow and since they are booked at a show in London that evening, could they come round early afternoon?
Once inside the church, they will expect a conducted tour. I have a competition with myself to see how outrageous I can make our history, yet still be believed. One family now thinks that the conical tomb in the churchyard is the last visible tip of the spire of the famous cathedral which once stood on this spot but sank into the ground when cursed by a bride who was jilted at its altar.
A second couple now know that a locked safe contains a set of pagan gods which were worshipped by an obscure sect in the parish during the time of the Tudor monarchs. They were removed by the incumbent of the day and locked away. Only the Rector is allowed a key and is only permitted to look inside at the contents on the day he leaves office, as the sight is too terrible.
Yet another are convinced that several dozen mediaeval gold chalices are buried in the rectory garden, where they were hidden from Cromwell's soldiers and their exact location has been forgotten (I told that story when I was looking for volunteers to dig over the rose beds).
Should they get as far as the vestry to inspect the registers of baptisms, marriages and burials, you know that the afternoon is lost. It can occasionally hasten their departure by casually telling them to ignore the mice which will be running round the floor - although hardened visitors are likely to set up their tripods to catch them on film.
The ultimate deterrent is to suggest they stay to Evensong which I am about to say. That is guaranteed to remind them that they have an urgent appointment back at their hotel.
Your loving uncle,