NOW that Suffolk is finally enjoying some spring weather, we have — with a relief akin to undoing the top button of one’s trousers after a roast dinner — thrown open the doors and expanded our rectory life into the garden.
Neither of us is a keen gardener (I think I can hear a derisive snort from the neglected lawn at that understatement), but, in the warmer months of last year, we appreciated for the first time what a blessing the extra outdoor space can be, while indoors grows ever more cluttered and multi-purpose. Creating a path through the wilderness outside has enabled us to donate two sturdy horse-chestnut saplings to a forestry project, which may give some sense of the scale of the transformation.
The church doors have been thrown open, too. Ever since Easter Day, we have been able to make a silent, distanced, but eager procession at the end of every service to sing a final hymn outdoors. Familiar tropes from Palm Sundays of old now repeat themselves weekly: the windblown congregation, warbling confidently in a different key, time signature, and pace from the muffled organ on the other side of the wall, discovering the growing discrepancy only as the last strains die away, a verse-and-a-half out of time with one another.
Despite all this, there is something wonderful about such a literal enactment of the final words of the service: we really do go forth to love and serve the Lord, in the name of Christ. It’s only the words “in peace” that are debatable.
His Master’s Voice
ALL-age services are back on, but what can be done to become child-friendly without being allowed to gather the children at the front, offer them things to touch and interact with, or even encourage singing?
This has provided a marvellous opportunity for my ventriloquists’ puppets to come out of hibernation, and for me to master writing a new skit every week, themed on the lectionary readings. As we’re leading from the front, neither I nor the puppet has to wear a mask, which is a shame, as it would have been a useful cover for the rustiness of my ventriloquism skills.
On the other hand, perfection in puppetry is a complete waste of time, as I discovered during one school visit when a child came bouncing up after the performance to announce triumphantly that she “knew how I did it” — “It’s got a speaker inside, and you press it every time the puppet talks.” After hours of rehearsing my show in front of a mirror, I suddenly wondered why I had bothered.
LAST week, I attended a group leaders’ meeting for the Association of Christian Writers (ACW), an invaluable organisation about to celebrate its golden jubilee. Before the pandemic, small local groups used to meet across the country for support, feedback, skill development, and rather a lot of cake.
Now that Zoom has taken over every area of life, the possibility has arisen for ACW members — spread over the UK and the rest of the globe — to meet in genre groups: one for poetry, one for historical fiction, and so on. This is an exciting new development, as constructive criticism can be much more helpful from somebody with experience in that particular form; and the groups will be able to invite relevant speakers.
Even though the cake will be only virtual, I suspect that I will be tempted to join every available group — and spend more of my time rehearsing for writing than actually doing it.
I WOULDN’T want to abandon the benefits of local amenities altogether, though, although that seems to be the general post-pandemic direction of things. Bobby the guinea pig needed some dental work done; in consideration of instructions to minimise travel and of the environment, I decided that it was time to find a vet a little closer to us than the one I’d been using in the nearest city.
I duly found a practice much closer to home, and registered Bobby there, only to be told after the initial appointment that, for surgery on “exotics” such as guinea pigs, they used their larger partner practice in town. This involved driving back and forth three times, a greater distance than before — and, to add insult to injury, the route took me straight past my original vet’s front door.
PENTECOST still seems a long way off, especially with a husband who insists on keeping every one of the 50 days as a feast. I like chocolate and alleluias as much as the next person, but it can all begin to feel a bit relentless. Perhaps 50 days was the time the disciples needed to reconfigure themselves from their little, local structure of the locked room to their pouring out as a Church, and growing at a rate that can’t have felt comfortable or safe.
As we stick our noses out of lockdown once again, it’s tempting to cling to the routines that we’ve become used to rather than venture into yet another new unknown. The in-between stage between full lockdown and full freedom is more taxing than either extreme, but I hope that we’ll reach a point when we can run out singing, ready to explain that we’re not drunk, as you suppose: this is just what the Church has always done when the doors are opened.
Amy Scott Robinson is a writer, performance storyteller, and ventriloquist.