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23 August 2013


Whether the weather

AT WHAT stage do vicars become parodies of themselves? I ask only because I realised that midway through the other Saturday not only had I checked the weather app on my phone about 20 times, but almost everyone I met I had bothered with my concerns about the colour of the sky and the shape of the clouds.

The reason? Our vicarage BBQ was scheduled to take place that evening. I had always been amused by clergy becoming hysterical about the weather for such vital occasions in salvation history as the summer fête or the churchyard spring gardening session, wondering how a priest gets into such a state and what the warning signs are.

It turns out that the answer is: very quickly and with no warning signs. When my parishioners started giggling as I stood anxiously on the vicarage lawn looking up to heaven and holding my hands out, I realised that I had arrived at the parody stage. Declaring at a pitch insufficiently low to cover the anxiety that "It's only spotting: it'll be over in an instant" seemed only to produce additional raised lay eyebrows.

Everyone else - in true Blitz spirit - seemed resolved to make the best of the dark clouds and increasing wind; only the incumbent had worked himself up into a conviction that no one would come, they'd all hate it, and we'd all get soaked.

In the end, it did only spit and spot for a couple of minutes, lots of people came, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, which I can only put down to our Lady's intercession. I do this not out of great Catholic devotion (well, not this time), but because strictly this was not the Vicarage BBQ, but the Assumptiontide BBQ, and so not only was it an important social occasion, but - like the Law of the Medes and the Persians - it was immovable, simply having to happen on the Saturday after 15 August.

It was only when I became slightly resentful that the weather should dare to turn dull and nippy on that day after weeks of rather splendid sun that I realised that perhaps I really was taking all this a bit too seriously.

Farewell to Berlin

THE solution would have been to have a holiday, except that I had only just come back from one. A group of us decided that, instead of gracing our usual haunt of somewhere semi-rural and southern, we would explore a Northern European city this year and thus we headed to Berlin. It turns out - I hadn't been to Germany before, never mind Berlin - that the Allies did a pretty thorough job during the war, and so there's not a huge amount of pretty architecture.

If you are sophisticated, I'm sure the modern stuff is thrilling, but being the kind of chap who wanders through Tate Modern wondering when he's going to get to the art, I could enjoy only so many equivalents of the Pompidou Centre.

The other discovery was that Berlin cuisine is rather like a parish buffet: sausages and lots of potato salad. Now, don't get me wrong - my DDO recommended me for ordination on the basis of my devotion to parish cuisine - but it did perhaps remind me too much of a reception after a deanery confirmation. When one is on holiday, deanery confirmations ought not to feature highly in one's consciousness.

A deanery confirmation would count as a liturgical high, however, in comparison with religion in the German capital. Devout souls that we were, we duly trooped off to the Roman Catholic Cathedral for "High Mass" (their term) on the Sunday morning.

High Mass, it turns out, is not well attended. This might be due to the fact that it involves no acolytes, no crucifer, no thurifer - indeed, no servers at all. Not only no servers, but no choir: just two clerics wearing horse blankets with iron-on early Christian symbols.

Having had a Protestant wobble about hearing the Lord's Supper in a language understanded of the people, however, we decided we ought to try the Anglican offering. So that evening we headed off to the Lutheran church, in which the English exiles are encamped. Sadly, this time we understood the language rather too well, and endured a sermon whose message about the Gospel story of Martha and Mary seemed precisely the reverse of the meaning our Lord intended.

Having had both too much and too little religion, we realised not only that we needed a beer (which, to be fair, Berlin does very well indeed), but also that we didn't really like Northern Europe that much. Next year, we will return to tried and tested ways, and go to Spain, or Italy, or the south of France: indeed, anywhere the Reformation never reached. 

The play's the thing

BACK in the parish, we have maintained both our festivity and high religion with our Summer Festival and Play. It is now 20 years since the parish began the practice of having a play or theatrical performance at each summer fête, and it is now quite indispensable.

I don't mean in terms of raising much-needed funds or building up fellowship (although it does both of those superbly); no, it is also wonderfully cathartic. It frees gentle souls to show a different side from the one that wouldn't normally say boo to a goose (although central Cambridge affords precious few goose-booing opportunities, it must be confessed).

For several rehearsals and two performances, we can all discover our alter-egos. Thus this year the sacristan took on the role of Satan, a college Dean played the part of a pagan cleric, and yours truly was a fallen angel. Add to that the daughter of one of the world's greatest theologians as a repentant whore, and a former Recorder of the General Synod as King Cyrus, and you had a pageant not to be missed.

Not only did it coin several hundred quid to keep the roof on and provide delight and joy to a three-figure audience, but it saved me a fortune in therapist's fees. If next year's play can explore clerical obsession with the weather, then my joy will be complete.

The Revd Robert Mackley is Vicar of Little St Mary's, Cambridge.

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