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The fate of the fête


Simon Parke is game for drawing parallels between two well-known events

CHURCH fêtes are very similar to the Olympic games — regular, if not frequent events, a lot of hard work, not necessarily as good as last time, but probably worth it in the end.

Church fêtes and the Olympic games set people up for unplanned, and often unlikely, encounters. They remind us that all relationships are exotic, but passing, and therefore to be much wondered at, but not taken too seriously. And isn’t it so good just to meet people away from our normal "rat-runs" of relating?

I’m sorry, but I’ve just remembered that not all meetings away from our normal means of relating are good, and as evidence, I name and shame the ecumenical services we used to have when I was at theological college.

The two rival teams gathered in a "neutral" church (though, let’s be honest, no church can really make such claims) and spent the next 90 minutes together doing everything differently.

We had the preacher to put our side of things, but they had the president at the eucharist and, my goodness, he gave as good as he got.

They stood when we knelt; we stood when they sat. Whose idea was it to gather in a place where we could only share our differences? If we’d worked an allotment together, everything would have been fine.

So, it all depends on how you meet, but I still maintain that church fêtes and the Olympic games are generally good things. They both need their freaks, though.

Church fêtes need Mr Wilkinson, anally awkward for much of the year, to come and do his miracle with the bunting. He won’t be helped, but he won’t be distracted, either. He clears up afterwards, as well. It’s the one day of the year you are grateful for him.

Similarly, the Olympic games need people who have spent their entire lives in sweaty gyms with chalky hands, big belts, and heavy weights, thrusting as appropriate, and all so that we can be entertained in a fashion while waiting for the football season to start.

The Olympic games have gold, silver and bronze medals, which are very grand, but then church fêtes have Thelma’s plum jam, and the scouts’ chocolate and banana tea cakes, so it’s probably evens there. After all, you can’t eat a medal, whatever its colour! Though, come to think of it, you can’t eat scouts’ cakes, either.

A long time ago, in Liverpool, a vicar organised a church fête, at which two boys met for the first time, and discovered they liked the same sort of music. I don’t know what happened to them after that.

The Revd Simon Parke was formerly Vicar of St George’s, Tufnell Park, north London.

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