Yesterday contained a whole lot of everything, really. It began with a lovely gentle 8.00 Eucharist. This regularly draws a congregation of 35 to 40, so feels far more of a community event than these early services often do. We even have the majority looking pleased to share the Peace these days, and they linger afterwards to talk to me and to each other, instead of trotting straight home for breakfast. I'm becoming really fond of this congregation, and of the opportunity the service allows for me to worship without the anxiety afforded by the heavenly hosts of servers, choristers et al at 10.00, so this was a Good Thing.
However, I walked home with a very unhappy lady indeed. Someone who has spent a lifetime building up a safe, happy, and deeply conventional world, only to find it challenged by something close to home, over which she has no control, but which makes her feel very vulnerable. As a result, she feels unable to pray, and interprets the loving concern of her friends and neighbours as nothing more than cruel mockery. Very difficult to find a way through her pain, to assure her that she is loved, that God is still there for her, though all she can do is curse him. She wept her way down the road with me, but when we reached her front door told me firmly that it was better that I didn't come in but let her get on with normal things, tidying up her anguish once again to present an "acceptable" face to the world...and to herself. So home I went, lamenting my failure to connect with her suffering.
10.00 Eucharist was its usual self, give or take a Baptism,- but the moment I arrived in the vestry I was accosted by an indignant parishioner, who wanted to know why, if Baptisms were going to be part of the normal patterns of worship, we hadn't shortened the rest of the service to compensate. As our regular Eucharist is often a good 75 minutes, even with slimline sermons, she did have a point,- and the simple answer was that the vicar and curate had both been too busy chasing our tails last week to find time to adapt the liturgy. Whoops. Lots of chunterings from the faithful, though they were ameliorated by the baptismal candidate, aged 5 months, who gurgled, cooed and generally set out to entrance all present. Thank you, God and M.
I was ministered to during Communion by one of my favourite toddlers. When I knelt down to bless him at the altar rail S responded by putting his hands on my head and, when I'd prayed for him, pronouncing a firmly approving "mmmmnnn". Happy, happy Curate!
The 10.00 finished with too little time for coffee before the next Baptism...of a very active toddler whose mother is confined to a wheelchair due to M.S. The whole family is a regular part of our Little Fishes toddler church on Thursdays, and other members of the group came to support them, which was a joy. Less of a joy was attempting to restrain D. while I anointed his forehead. Had I not just been talking about the cross on his forehead as an "invisible badge..that we prayed would become visible in every part of his life as he grew up", I would have been tempted to forget this part of the proceedings, but somehow it didn't seem to be an option. However, the Baptism itself was a huge and riotous success. Knowing my limitations, I suggested that D's father held him while I did the business...and D absolutely loved it. Once the 3 fold pouring of water was accomplished, he began reaching into the font, splashing enthusiastically until parents, godparents and Curate were all rather more than damp. It struck me that this was far more what we were about, as recipients of God's startling, overwhelming grace, than the polite little trickles that I'd managed....so I said something about this as we stood, laughing. Thank you, God, for the way you refuse to let us confine you, even on Sundays!
"Food for Thought" was the next item on the agenda....poorly attended, in the event, with none of those who had enthusiastically canvassed for it actually appearing. Still, the dozen of us who gathered had a very sociable lunch, and a good discussion. The main areas of anxiety seemed to be the likely fate of non-Christian loved ones and whatever happened to Purgatory. The vicar and I had fun comparing and contrasting the theological emphasis of the services in BCP and Common Worship. I know I would have found it almost impossible to conduct a BCP burial, not least because of the need to ascertain that the deceased had been baptised...
Imagine the scenario...
Funeral Director "Are you free to take the service of Joseph Bloggs on Friday next?"
Curate "I'm free, but I didnt know Mr Bloggs. Do you have a copy of his baptism certificate for me?"
Funeral Director "**** off"
I'm not prepared to second-guess God's judgement on anyone...Praise be that it is God who decides, and not his faltering, inept if well-meaning church!
I'm not sure that our discussions in any way added to the sum of human knowledge, but if nothing else they helped us to know each other a little better...and I did compile a rather splendid selection of literary offerings on the subject, including two cracking bits of Stewart Henderson as well as the obligatory, 'Kathryn-was-here', 17th century poets, and others ranging from Swinburne to Mahatma Ghandi. We all agreed, too, that "Death is nothing at all" was not the best piece of pastoral writing ever, though none of us would have argued the toss with a grieving family!
Home to catch a quick sleep (up way too late on Saturday) then Evensong with rather ordinary sermon on Ezekiel 34 (for which I take full responsibility) and finally a session with the Youth Group, including a good discussion of a Simpsons episode, and evidence that, for the moment at least, cricket has superceded football in the popular imagination of young Charlton Kings . The Sunday night group has up to now been divided between "choristers/manse brats" and "the footballing boys",- but the latter group has been changed, in a moment, at the twinkling of an eye. I don't expect it will last...
Nor, it seems, does young love. The final event of the day was the dissolution of the 6 month romance between LoudBoy and organist's daughter. He's fine. She's fine. They're only 13. So why do I feel so sad for them??