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Diary

05 February 2016

ISTOCK

Life at a fast pace

HAVE you noticed how Easter always seems early or late? Odd, isn’t it? I have never yet thought to myself “Ah, yes, it’s about time we came to Easter.” It is never on time: it is always too early, or terribly late.

This year, of course, it is terribly early, and barely has the Epiphany house been dismantled and consigned to the middle shed in the back yard of the church than we’re burning palm crosses and smearing the results on the faithful’s foreheads. Next week, the 40 days of Lent will begin, and Easter will be on its way.

 

Carols, but no wine

I AM barely reconciled to the end of Christmas and Epiphany, to be honest. One reason is that I still enjoy this season very much, and, in the misery of cold, dark January, the jollity inside the church makes up for the grey grimness outside. It is also because the season provides ceaseless entertainment. This year was no exception, and carol services provided a rich seam of humour. Everyone, of course, loves a carol service — even (I discovered this year) Mormons.

One year, after we got thrown out of the local hotel for making too much noise, I decided that, instead of carol-singing round the parish (of which there isn’t much to speak in central Cambridge), we would have a traditional carol service in church, not least for all those unable to get into the rather more famous version up the road on Christmas Eve.

Clergy readers will attest that all manner of people who never normally darken your church’s doorstep will turn up for a carol service. I was surprised however, when, as I processed in during “Once in royal”, I saw one pew filled with four young men in identical smart suits, each with carefully coiffured dark hair.

At the end, standing at the door ready to be mission-shaped at everyone who passed, and pressing on them glasses of mulled wine, I confess that I was taken aback when suddenly, in front of me, were these four chaps, each with a little black badge revealing his name and his membership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I was unsurprised to learn that they did not want any wine, but more curious to hear them say, as they departed, that it had all seemed very familiar to them. Who knew that Joseph Smith was into Nine Lessons and Carols?

 

Ready for take-off

THIS international theme continued on Christmas Eve, when we had our usual crib service. Like most crib services, this involved the reading of the Christmas story by little people, the carrying of the figures of Mary, Joseph, animals, and shepherds to the crib, the vigorous use of candles, and the Vicar compèring like a downmarket music-hall act.

Part of the business is, of course, to ask the children questions, and, early on in the exercise, I asked where Mary and Joseph were travelling to. Foolishly, I asked the child whose hand had shot up first and most aggressively. This is always an error, as there is frequently an inverse relationship between zeal and competence.

I pointed encouragingly at him, and invited him to answer. “The airport,” he said.

“Goodness me, no, there were no airports in those days,” I responded amid parental titters. I then felt guilty that I had not offered a more appreciative comment on his efforts.

Two or three questions down the line, and lulled into a false sense of security by intelligent answers from choristers, I asked whether anyone knew where the shepherds were when they heard the angels.

Up shot the young boy’s hand again. “The airport,” he shouted.

Whether his parents were as anxious to get away as I increasingly felt, I cannot say, but if Heathrow or Gatwick needs a cheerleader for its campaign for extra runways, I have one person I can recommend.

 

Somewhat reverend

MY GIFTS as an animateur of congregations may not be up to much, but I am about to have to learn some new skills; for I have been made Rural Dean.

Members of my PCC, bless them, thought this a great honour, and received the news with acclaim, not realising that half the deanery was in vacancy, and the other half were too overworked to do the job, and so the poor Bishop had no one else to pick but me.

“How much do you get paid?” one naïve PCC member asked, not realising that the rewards this side of heaven amount to headaches and a quickly acquired competence in dealing with open churchyards. You don’t even get a lovely title. One feels that if bishops are Right Reverend, and deans Very Reverend, and archbishops Most Reverend, then deans rural might be Vaguely Reverend, or Rather Reverend, or a Bit Reverend.

Given the lack of filthy lucre, perhaps it is for the best that one’s headed paper does not need to change.

 

Mistaken identity

I THOUGHT that I might have been wrong about the earthly rewards for rural deans when I woke up the other morning, opened the curtains, and found a van in the driveway and two men painting my garage doors.

Unlike many dioceses, we are lucky in Ely to have a parsonages board that is first-rate, but even its enthusiasm for maintaining high-quality clergy accommodation is usually tempered by the desire, first, to inform you of what it proposes to do. Eventually, I popped out and offered a cheery “Good morning” before gently enquiring why they were painting my garage doors. “You asked us to,” came the response.

I turn 40 in three years’ time; so I am increasingly conscious of memory lapses; but I was pretty confident that, on this occasion, I had not absent-mindedly asked the property department to give my garage a lick of paint.

I demurred politely, and went back inside to phone the said department. My announcement of delight and surprise at the unmerited mercy of painted doors was greeted with somewhat less delight but equal surprise at the other end of the phone. The decorators were supposed to be fixing the much older garage doors of the archdeacon’s house next door, and had got the wrong building.

I went outside to pass on the good news, and was thrilled to find that they had just finished. Why, I wondered, does one need to be a Bit Reverend, when your garage doors can be a bit painted?

 

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

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