“HOW do you do a school assembly on the Ten Plagues of Egypt?” my Team Vicar, Betsy, texted one Monday morning.
“You run around screaming, waving your hands in the air,” I texted back.
“Rather like the rest of parish ministry, then,” she replied.
How true, I thought. I had had a request from the children in one of my schools to do an assembly on the theme of Moses, and so I duly obliged. I demonstrated a plague a minute, complete with fairly rumbustious audience participation.
I must admit that I did rather skate over the slaughter of all the animals, and the angel of death smiting the first-born, but we had a real hoot with the locusts, the hailstones, and the river of blood.
I now have requests to repeat an earlier assembly, making a sponge cake incorporating egg shells and tomato sauce, which they clearly loved, and also a presentation on Samson. Bring on Delilah, garden shears, and Philistine pillars made of painted cardboard boxes, I fancy.
THE next thing in the diary was a wedding interview. These generally take about an hour, and are quite fun: this took two, and was somewhat fraught. Not because of the young couple (who were lovely), but because of the assault on the General Register Office we had to undertake on the internet.
After the recent disclosure of reams of dodgy weddings involving Anglican clergy, new legislation has come in that requires proof of nationality to be produced by the prospective spouses. If they have passports, then fine: a quick giggle at the unrecognisable photos, and you tick the box. But, if no passports are available, then each has to produce an extended birth certificate, backed up by their mother’s birth certificate, or (failing that) the father’s birth certificate, together with the parents’ marriage certificate.
Now, in parishes like mine — in the bottom five per cent of urban deprivation in the country, and with one of the highest instances of generations of unmarried single-parent families — this can be a real struggle. Sadly, there is often little contact with birth parents, let alone any passports, or records of marriages, or registrations of birth.
In this particular instance, the bride had her own and her mother’s certificates, but the groom had nothing, and no computer literacy: hence our combined attack on the General Register Office, with increasing levels of technophobic desperation.
It really concerns me in areas like ours: schemes such as Universal Credit are being rolled out that assume computer literacy and internet access, which, frankly, many do not have. In response, we are setting up a kitchen and lavatories at the back of our church with computer access. We are a trusted and safe place, and people in need will come.
It’s a high-tech return to 19th-century Anglican social provision, which is sobering in the 21st century, to say the least.
All in a day’s work
THEN something completely different: a reception with the Mayor and Mayoress of Brighton and Hove at the city’s town hall.
The Mayor’s Parlour comprises a suite of gracious early Victorian rooms bedecked in Farrow & Ball heritage colours, with large sash windows, overlooking Bartholomew Square, and filled with cabinets of civic bling and paintings from the town’s history.
It has been the venue for some 60 receptions in the past year, put on by the Mayor and Mayoress largely at their own expense. From drag queens to residents’ groups, blue-plaque organisers to biker gangs, all Brighton and Hove (or, at any rate, about 2000 of the population) passed through, with much wine and plentiful canapés.
As the Mayor’s chaplain, I’ve helped at about 20 of these, and, early on, learnt the hazards involved: naturally chatty and partial to a drink, I could easily knock back four or five glasses without noticing; so, aware of my protesting liver, I hit on a cunning plan.
Fifteen or so minutes after the start of one of these dos, when the first glass has been drained, armed with a bottle of red in one hand and a bottle of white in the other (no free hand for drinking myself, please note), I go round topping up the guests with the words “There you are, you can’t say the Church has never done anything for you.”
I got back to the rectory mid-evening, and, with clear time, was just putting my gym bag on my shoulder when the phone rang. It was a local care home and a resident was dying: could I come and say prayers? So off I went (the dying take precedence over everything), and sat by the bedside of one of my regular communicants, surrounded by pictures of his life history, helping him to touch base with eternity.
I have done this many times, but each time it is a huge privilege, reminding me of who I am, and what I am here for. An hour or so later, as I finally got to the gym and started my programme on the treadmill, I reflected on the day: children’s entertainer; minister of sacrament and social worker; civic flunkey; comforter to the dying — all in all, a pretty representative day’s work for a parish priest. But that’s the point, you see: Mondays are supposed to be my day off.
The Revd John Wall is Team Rector in the Moulsecoomb Team Ministry in Brighton.