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Diary: John Wall

21 January 2022


Car clear-out

ITEMS excavated from the rectory car after Christmas:

1 Green baubles, green tinsel, a mozzetta emblazoned with the cross of the Order St Lazarus of Jerusalem, and a long string of fairy lights

AFTER two years, we managed once again to hold our Festival of Christmas Trees, and very good it was too. We had almost a hundred trees, each adopted and decorated by local charities, community groups, and businesses; en masse, they were stunning. My favourites were a Hogwarts tree, complete with Hedwig clutching a letter addressed to me (there’s still time . . .), and the Men’s Shed tree, constructed out of painted plywood.

Every year there is huge demand for trees, and every year I try but fail to get out of doing one myself. My theme this year was the Order of St Lazarus, for which I am Chaplain to the Sussex Commandry. I draped my mozzetta (shoulder cape) around the base of the tree, and festooned the branches with the aforementioned decorations. It proved rather unstable; so, after some thought, I tied it with tinsel to a handy presidential chair. It still stood rather drunkenly, but at least stayed up for the duration.

Some four thousand people passed through the church over three days — down from our normal number, but still gratifying. We encouraged masks, hand-sanitising, and social distancing, which led to long queues through the churchyard and along the road, but all very good-natured and affable — people were so grateful that the Festival was back — and we raised much-needed church funds supplying them with hot chocolate and mulled wine.

But the most moving part of it all was the 20-foot Tree of Angels. The focal church tree, it was given over to angel-shaped tags, each with a message commemorating someone who had died. By the end of the first day, it was covered, having exhausted the entire supply intended for three days. It was moving to see people standing, giving thanks, and remembering; the stewards did a stalwart job in listening and empathising.

The tree, together with the crib, will remain until Candlemas, and I think people will keep returning to touch base with it. There is so much mourning in the air at the moment: we are looking at holding a memorial service for the town in March, to acknowledge and earth the sense of loss which these two years have left us with. On we go. . .

2 Two light sabres, one green and one red

THE Bonfire Carol Service was back! Again, our numbers were down; the silver band that usually accompanies it pulled out the day before; and the youth band vanished without trace. But it was fun — and the one occasion in the year when I feel underdressed.

All the Bonfire Societies in East and West Sussex attend, habited in a whole variety of themes from cavemen to pirates, Tudor monarchs to mariachi. Anglican choir dress seems somewhat staid in comparison. My moment came, though, when my colleague Martha and I did the annual clergy sketch, this year dressed as Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. After we had chased each other screaming around the church, the dialogue went along the lines of:

Leia: “Why’s your light sabre the wrong colour? You’re supposed to be a goody.”

Luke: “I nicked it from our Dad.”

Leia: “Where are we, anyway?”

Luke: “We are on the primitive and inhospitable planet Uckfield.”

Leia (looking around the church): “There are a lot of strange life forms here.”

Luke: “They call themselves the Bonfire folk: they like setting fire to things and blowing things up. They’re fairly friendly . . . [looking at the Mayor] mostly.”

I then talked about the Force, about the new hope that is born at Christmas — and I got a round of applause. People want to hear about Hope.

3 Two sets of angel wings, one shabby, one new but broken

MY FAVOURITE service of the year is the crib service, which, before Covid, was our biggest of the year, with some six hundred attending. This year we did pre-booking for a maximum of 250, including some fifty children dressed as nativity characters. Masks were required, and sanitising and lateral-flow tests were requested.

I was the Archangel Gabriel (cast, as ever, against type). My previous wings were — rather like their wearer — worn out and shabby; so I had treated myself to a new set with real feathers. Alas, they couldn’t stand the strain and broke halfway through.

Undeterred, I still had my big moment. Normally from the balcony, but this year from the pulpit as I needed to be in shot for live-streaming, I duly proclaimed the coming of Christ to the shepherds. “Behold” was the key word, at which point ten glitter cannons went off, festooning the congregation with silver streamers. I love that moment; and the electric excitement kick-starts our children’s work for the coming year. Fingers crossed for 2022.

4 Twenty-seven bottles of booze,
including port, rum, manzanilla, Prosecco, and six bottles of flavoured gins. Gratifying to know that my congregations know me so well. Maybe the aforementioned Christmas tree reeling at a dodgy angle was quite appropriate. . .

The Revd John Wall is Rector of the Uckfield Plurality in East Sussex.


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