*** DEBUG END ***


07 February 2014


Mistaken identity

I HAVE never thought of myself as a sex symbol. This is for a variety of reasons which, it is fair to say, we do not need to enter into now. My conviction was questioned the other day, however, after I made a home visit.

I knocked on the door, and the au pair answered with a look of surprise on her face. After a brief hello, she asked, with a knowing look, if "Tom" had sent me. I had never heard of Tom, and, as far as I knew, the lady I was visiting had asked for me to come through her daughter. So I said no, and asked if this was a convenient time to visit, to which she replied with a rather coy "Yes."

Still standing at the door, and hoping I might gain admittance, I asked if I could come in, and whether Doris was available. This seemed to throw her considerably. "Doris?"

"Yes, I'm told she's not well; so I've come to see her."

"Oh! You've come to see Doris who's ill?"

"Yes," I replied, "is that OK?" It was at this moment that she went bright red.

After a further slight pause, I was ushered into the presence of the relevant lady, and the au pair hurriedly retreated. The rest of the visit passed off without incident.

It was only later that everything became clear. The lady's daughter, in fits of giggles, called that evening to tell me that the au pair was terribly embarrassed. She had never met a priest before, or been to church; and so, seeing me at the front door, she had put two and two together, and made a splendidly saucy five: she thought that I was a kiss-a-gram sent by her friend Tom.


THANKFULLY, I hadn't a clue that this was why she was behaving oddly, or I might have become thoroughly awkward and embarrassed myself. It is difficult to know how to respond to people who are astonished more or less by your very existence. Sometimes, it's funny, when a tourist on King's Parade, for instance, walks into a bollard or another person because they are so fixated on a chap in a black dress and white collar; at other times you can be lost for words when people shout out things such as (as happened on one occasion) "Oi! Undertaker!"

If I had had presence of mind, and the right things in my pockets,I could have wandered over and started measuring them up for a coffin; as it was, I just kept walking with a perplexed look on my face.


Ripe for recruitment

ON OTHER occasions, it is rather endearing, as when I was showing classes of schoolchildren around the church. "Do you have any questions?" I asked, to which one child, reading from a prepared list, asked: "Are you a lady vicar or a man vicar?"

The worst thing about that question was that I was so surprised by it that for a moment I could not think what to say, and may have given the impression that I was not altogether sure. Hastily, I recollected myself, and said that I was pretty confident that I was a man. This seemed to meet with general approbation, although one girl's eyes, lighting on my cassock, suggested that she was open to persuasion to the contrary.

This particular school tour had other highlights. At the font, I began with my standard question: "What do we use water for?" Expecting some reference to drinking or cleaning, I was more than a little surprised when a hand shot up and out came the perfect answer: "It washes away sin and makes us Christians."

Cue the second silence of the visit, as the Vicar, his careful intellectual journey from washing and drinking to the mystery of the laver of regeneration entirely short-circuited, pondered what to do next. Resisting the temptation to hand her a Gift Aid envelope, or, for that matter, the diocesan director of ordinands' phone number, I took the liberty of going back a few stages, which regression the young lady endured with that look of tedium children adopt when adults are engaged in something especially stupid.

Nothing but the truth

IF SCHOOL visits produce the unexpected or sophisticated response, they also produce the rather tangential. Passing from the font to the altar, I was busily talking about the aumbry and the reservation of the Sacrament. Having paused, rather pleased with my elegant explanation, I wondered whether anyone would like anything explained further.

"Yes," said one boy. "Why is that Christmas tree there?"

It was at this moment that I felt I had perhaps tarried too long, for Key Stage 2, on explicating the eucharistic species, and ought to return to the simplicity of whywe still had Christmas decorations up.

I was about to begin a theological answer about Epiphanytide, and the 40 days of Christmas, when I realised that, actually, the truth was a darn sight easier: "The man who takes it away could only come after the Wise Men had visited, and we wanted to keep the tree until Jesus's baptism. So we're stuck with it now until we get round to chopping it up."

It wasn't the most highfalutin' answer I had given, but the young chap looked entirely content, and the response produced nods of amused sympathy from the accompanying teaching staff. I realised that I ought to remember to try the truth more often.

Gainful employment

THE visit was very jolly, and the staff enjoyed it because it took them in from the rain, and the children enjoyed it because someone who may or may not have been a man, and needed it explaining to him why we had water at baptism, and kept getting himself lumbered with Christmas trees beyond the season, appeared to be in gainful employment.

In the competitive jobs market of today, the older children may well have pondered that here was ajob that, it appeared, any idiot could do. I decided that it was best to wait until they were older before adding that, if it didn't work out, they could always try for employment as a kiss-a-gram.

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

Forthcoming Events

26 January 2022
Book launch: Entering the Twofold Mystery
Author Erik Varden in conversation with Sarah Coakley.

1 February 2022
Cathedrals and social justice
Book free tickets for this Church Times webinar with Mark Russell, Anne Richards and Adrian Dorber.

More events

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four* articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)