ONE of my earliest memories is of attending a vicarage garden party, at the age of about two. I recall adults bending down to tell me “Your big sister fell in the pond!” This turned out to be incorrect. She didn’t fall in: she walked confidently out on to a small and perfectly flat green lawn, only to be disastrously let down.
An early lesson in the tricksiness of vicarage gardens, and perhaps of the C of E generally, in which appearances can be deceptive. It might look to the outsider like a christening, but no: it’s a baptism. Happily, on the occasion of my sister’s accidental full immersion, she was fished out by an adult, and lived to voice her indignation: “My shoes are wet!”
Chorus of resistance
IT COULD so easily have played out differently. With this possibility in mind, we erect fencing round the pond whenever we are expecting little visitors. The fence is up at the moment, after our recent garden party, which this year departed from the traditional vicarage model.
This was a bold move in Anglican circles, in which the traditional is so cherished. Things that at the time were annoying or unremarkable can be utterly transformed by the kindly glow of nostalgia. Before we know it, our hearts are strangely warmed by Beryl cups and velvet collection bags.
Come to think of it, velvet collection bags were probably a Nonconformist thing, along with those wooden cupholder whatsits for communion glasses. ******* That row of asterisks denotes time passing, while I went down a Google hole looking for the proper name for this item, and found myself in the mysterious world of CELEBRATION CUP BOX OF 100 PREFILLED COMMUNION BREAD & CUP.
Apparently, these offer a comprehensive communion experience. If you’re interested in the proper name, it turns out to be either a “communion tray” (church-supplier website) or “Shot Glass Mini 24 pcs Drinks Serving Board Organizer 24 Holes with Clear Crystal Glass for Liquor Shots Whisky Brandy Vodka Rum Home Party Bar” (Amazon). Rubric: The congregation may adopt shocked expressions and sing “Have courage, my boy, to say ‘No!’’’, or some other suitable temperance song.
THIS year, the Bishopscroft garden party was reimagined with a theme of Creation Care, Eco Church, and Upcycling (News, 24 June). Punters coming along for the good old-fashioned stalls like “Splat the Archdeacon”, or “Pin the Tassel on the Mothers’ Union Banner Bag” will have been disappointed.
Instead, we had stalls selling upcycled goods. Mine was billed as selling cashmere tam-o’-shanters upcycled out of jumpers from charity shops. This was reimagined as a stall not selling these at all, because I currently have too many other balls to juggle. (In fact, I abandon the juggling image in favour of feeling as though I’ve fallen into the ball-pond at Wacky Warehouse, where an infinity of Slush-Puppy-crazed toddlers are trampling me to death.)
Instead of cashmere hats, I was selling vintage items, craftwork, and strings of rather tasteful paper bunting, made by me and my Ukrainian guest the night before out of a Home-Lovers Encyclopedia.
This useful volume contains advice on everything from “THE CHILD: ITS CARE AND TRAINING”, through to instructions on how to fashion your own cathedral verger out of an old hassock. My guest and I devoted hours to our bunting production line, communicating by means of hand gestures and Google Translate.
I’m sorry to tell you that we didn’t sell a single strand. Not one. If you feel moved to send an extravagant donation to the Bishop’s charities (this year, Christian Aid, and Refurnish, a local charity committed to saving resources and enriching lives), I will post you some. Or I might not. This is just how tricksy we are in the C of E. But think about it: instead, you will have a bracing shot of righteous indignation to quaff, and the knowledge that you’ve made a charitable donation. Bargain!
ONE of the hot topics of conversation during the garden party was how long the Bishop and I have been in Sheffield. The answer is five years. Everyone was astonished. We agreed that we’ve all lost two years of memory to Covid. No way does it feel like five years since the Bishop’s consecration in York Minster!
I was equally surprised to calculate that this means that it’s also the fifth anniversary of the day I caught my heel in my glamorous, wide-legged jumpsuit and fell sprawling out of the car on to the Archbishop of York’s drive. Still, no harm done. If I learned anything from ten years of judo, it’s how to fall.
In the end, it’s not the falling that counts: it’s the getting back up. My first thought when I trip over is generally “I really hope nobody saw that, because I feel like a complete idiot.” To fall is human. As the Good Book tells us, the righteous person falls seven times, and rises again.
Seven is the biblical number of perfection; so I think our seventh fall is our final one in this life. Sooner or later, we all fall into death. And then it will be a comfort to know that someone saw us go: someone who will raise us up into new life.
Catherine Fox is an author, senior lecturer, and academic director of the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University.