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Diary: Ian Marchant

24 May 2024


Model fund-raiser

A PCC’s gotta do what a PCC’s gotta do; and so it was that, in April, we hosted a “Ladies’ Fashion Show” at St Andrew’s, Presteigne, in Powys, in the hope of raising a few bob from Colours FUNdraising, a kind of TK Maxx on wheels.

We collected nearly £750 — almost a whole week’s parish share — and it was enormously good fun, not least because, apart from the Vicar, a couple of tittering churchwardens, and the host, I was the only bloke in the house. Two personable models showed off the Colours range, which they buy up from retailer overstocks. There was stuff from Karen Millen, and Wallis, and River Island, and Next, and Dunnes, and so on; and it was a hoot.

They had set up a catwalk in the nave, and refreshments under the west window; the models sashayed up and down, while the good-humoured host talked us through what was on offer.

Although I was aware of the existence of the fashion singular, I’d never actually heard it used live before. “We like to pair this jean with a boot,” the host would say, or, “This short goes well with a ribbed tight.” He said he was sorry that there was nothing for gentlemen; I found a plissé scarf that I thought he said was Issey Miyake, but my wife told me I needed to wear my hearing aid, because all he’d said was that Issey Miyake used the same fabric. No matter: it will zhuzh up my summer look as I saunter up to Elda’s Colombian Coffee House with this stylish ’kerchief hiding my chins.


Shared ministry

WHILE I realise that this sort of thing is not to everyone’s taste (see also silent discos and helter skelters), what else are we supposed to do? A town of 2500, with an active congregation of perhaps 30 — maybe 40 on a good day — with a Grade I listed building to keep in some sort of order, and a walloping parish share to find . . . not to mention the stuff that the Lord would rather we did with our cash, such as looking after the sick, the homeless, the lonely, and so on.

What is to be done? It sometimes seems to me that we should give the keys to St Andrew’s to the Town Council, while we go and beg the Methodists to let us share their space.

The husband of a pal of mine, now a bishop, once told me that most vicars felt like this about the beautiful buildings in their care, and, at the time, I was shocked. Now, I’m not so sure.

Ups and downs

QUITE apart from prostate cancer — never fun, but commonplace — I now have a rare condition, too. It manifests as my face swelling up like a hamster’s on World Peanut Day, and is accompanied by agonising, climbing-next-door’s-trellis, screaming-at-the-sky pain. It is called sialolithiasis, which means I have a walloping great stone, one centimetre across, stuck in my parotid salivary gland.

The consultants are thrilled, because large stones are very rare, and I’m being referred to a colleague in Luton, 142 miles from Presteigne, who has dealt with such things before. In the mean time, I am being prayed for by several members of our congregation from an Evangelical background. And it’s wonderful, praise the Lord!

I never thought I’d say that, like that. A choirboy at a High Church church in Northamptonshire when a lad, I was argued back into Christianity by Don Cupitt’s Sea of Faith, and by attending services at St Bartholomew’s, Brighton, with a Roman Catholic pal who refused to believe that it could be Church of England.

High Church, highbrow — that was my way in. But to encounter people so happy to pray with me, who reach and touch my jaw, and pray that the Lord might shatter my stone — what a thing! How loved I feel. Who, actually, needs a building of any kind?


There is yet faith

THEN, this week, it is our turn to open and close St Andrew’s. I’m struck, as I always am, by the extraordinary history of this place, linked with the long history of our little town: proest hem maed — the “border meadow of the priests”.

In the north aisle, you can see the Saxon foundation, 60 feet by 19. The rest of our lovely church has grown around this seed. The best evidence suggests that, some time in the seventh century, a group of priests crossed the River Lugg by ford, from Mercia into Powys, to build this church, in this place. It looks as if it was a minster church: a centre for the reconversion of the Lugg valley from short-lived paganism to long-held Roman Christian faith — a place, I’m sure, of wonder and light in those dark times.

So, Pentecost lights up the human soul, a season of wonders waiting to be performed: of the Grail Maiden carrying the cup around the table at Camelot; of the true magic of the indwelling of the Spirit in the upper room.

Those old priests . . . they crossed the river and built their church here for a reason. It is prayer in stone, a “thin” place, and this is why we are here looking after it, because, I realise, we are the faithful remnant: here to sweep the floor and unlock the door; here to wait for something beyond wonderful, and to pray for the tongues of fire to reignite us all.

Ian Marchant is an author and broadcaster, and the founder of Radio Free Radnorshire.

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