Diary: David Winter

by
19 July 2019

ISTOCK

Notice period

AS I was leaving church the other week, a young man remarked to me “Lovely service, wasn’t it?”, and then added “Ruined by the notices.” As we walked down the path, I engaged him on this subject. If he didn’t like the notices at the end (where we have them), where would he put them? He had no alternative suggestion. I got the impression that he felt that, as we could all read, and the notices were printed in the weekly handout, anything else was superfluous.

After 70 years of listening to notices in church — and noting the part that they play in persuading people to get involved — I can’t see any alternative but to recognise the problem. If you have them at the start, you get a “start delayed”, similar to a cricket match in the rain. If you have them in the middle, after the Peace, you divide the service into two acts with a long interval; and, if you have them at the end, you risk a serious anti-climax: “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord” — but not yet.

In my first incumbency, I got the thriving youth fellowship to rate the various parts of the service in order of their appreciation. The notices came top, followed by the Peace; to my dismay, the sermon was next to last, just above the organ voluntary.

The truth is that most of us process information carelessly. If we accept that the notices are a “necessary nag”, they become simply part of the process — wherever they are placed.

 

My eureka moment

EVERY now and then, I have a eureka moment in church: something suddenly becomes clear and vivid. I had one a few weeks ago, on a Sunday when we were welcoming children to their first communion.

They had been well prepared, and the moment had come. Six children, each with their parents, came forward and knelt at the communion rail. Where I was sitting, a few rows back, I could see a trio between people’s heads. One small girl, seven or eight perhaps, knelt between her father and mother, their hands cupped to receive the precious gift. She was wearing a new dress for the occasion.

I found the sight peculiarly moving, and suddenly realised why. The whole extraordinary miracle of creation was being rehearsed before me. The child was the creature of the parents’ love. We love what we create: a painting, a garden, a tiny child. It is the love of the creator that is the secret of life — not just human life, but life in all its forms. The fledgling bird, the helpless lamb, the bee in the hive. Our Creator loves us.

What a thought, as they knelt there and received the evidence: that love is not an insurance policy against the setbacks and tragedies of life, but is a cast-iron assurance of our worth. Quite a thought for half-past ten on a Sunday morning.

 

Death to the OAP

WHEN my much-beloved grandmother died, 70 years ago, the “cause of death” was recorded as “senile decay”. I was indignant — how could my dear grandma, who had cared for me and my brother through the war, be described as “decayed”? Yes, she was old (though not by current standards), a bit confused, and vulnerable to infection; but not decaying. I think the doctor meant that she died of being old, which is entirely acceptable.

I thought of her as I read Ted Harrison’s recent article on coping with old age (Features, 21 June). Old people like me don’t want to be pitied, patronised, or told that we’re decaying. Old age is no more odd than being a child, a young adult, or middle-aged. It is simply a stage of life, and each has its problems. The language we use about them, however, is important. We are not decaying versions of our younger selves, and neither are we — in the chosen language of the media — OAPs.

There has been no such thing as an “old-age pensioner” for decades, although we do indeed receive our National Insurance pension, to which we contributed all through our working lives. “OAP” is conveniently short in a headline (rather than “elderly person”), and is meant to invoke pity. “Poor old soul, hit by a bus” — never mind that the OAP was a healthy 70-year-old on her way to the gym. No decay, and definitely not an OAP.

 

Hands-on role

“WHY,” someone asked me at church, “do we no longer ask for our sins of ignorance to be forgiven?”

I congratulated him on noticing — about ten years after the change — and then addressed myself to this interesting question. “Because”, I said, “sin has to be wilful. If we genuinely don’t know that what we are doing is wrong, then we haven’t sinned.” We weren’t aware of sin until we discovered the law that judged it and told us we needed forgiveness — as St Paul argues in Romans.

As I knew he was a football fan, I gave him the example of handling the ball. The laws of football clearly make wilful handling an offence. That’s why “handling” is a subject of such controversy. The poor referee not only has to decide whether the player’s hand touched the ball, but whether he or she did it wilfully. In the world of football, you cannot be penalised for accidentally or ignorantly handling the ball. My inquisitor left satisfied, and I gave thanks for my years of refereeing at school.

It is rumoured that the law about handling a football is up for revision. It is too confusing. Perhaps they should seek advice from the Liturgical Commission?

 

Canon David Winter is a retired priest in the diocese of Oxford, and a former Head of Religious Broadcasting at the BBC.

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