Sunday, December 19, 2010

The service that didn't happen

Tonight I should be busily lighting the candles given in memory of so many, to lend Valley Church a beautiful welcoming glow for those arriving for our annual service of Carols by Candelight.
I might be playing the piano so the choir could have one last run through of their two solo carols.
I would surely be scanning arrivals anxiously until all the readers were safely in church, armed with their readings and primed to end each, in the approved Kings fashion
"Thanks be to God".

But I'm not.
Instead I'm at my desk, drinking hot ginger and waiting the return of my menfolk, who sallied forth a couple of hours ago in search of a Christmas tree.  It's bitterly cold out there, so by rights I should be purring gently at finding myself indoors with a cat at my feet....but instead I'm more than a little miserable, since I'm only here because our carol service has been cancelled.

I accept that my judgement on these matters may be somewhat skewed.
Yesterday I drove some 50 miles in the worst conditions I have ever experience on UK roads, in order to officiate at the wedding of a very dear friend. Even in a Volvo with snow chains fitted it was quite an alarming ride, but once I knew that the couple intended to go ahead nothing on earth would have kept me away. Plans had to be changed as 10" snow made the reception venue impossible, the groom was 2 hours late, as a 45 minute journey took him something like 4 hours and there were gaps among the guests, of course, but all of us there were united in our love for the couple and our determination to celebrate with them on this happiest of days.
Our commitment to friendship was not going to be shaken by the difficulties of getting to a country church in the worst snow for years. We really wanted to be there.
Meanwhile, the snow-struck congregation at church in the valley this morning was doubled in size by the presence of a family - three generations gathered from far and wide to dedicate a memorial in memory of a grandfather and uncle who now lie in our church-yard. Some had come from villages on the hills around Stroud, some from much further afield but they were all there, full of good humoured tales of hazardous journeys, to support one another and honour their dead. When it was announced that there would be no coffee today because there was no milk, they cheerfully helped me make black coffee and offered it to those of the regular church family who made it into the hall.Of course we could have rescheduled the dedication for a warmer time, but they wanted to be there today, having made a commitment to one another and to their dead.

Given these two examples of determination in the face of whatever the weather might bring, it's not really surprising that I feel a bit grumpy at the cancellation of our Carol Service. In comparison with conditions yesterday, things really aren't that bad here. Of course I understand that nobody wants to put elderly bones at risk...and it would be truly awful if one of the group of once-a-year attenders slipped on the way to the service and did themselves harm but what saddens me is how very ready everyone was to abandon the service - and just how few of our core congregation actually got here this morning. There was a crucial PCC vote after the service, or I fear that numbers would have been even worse...

I know it's not fair to draw comparisons...I realise that I'm in danger of grossly oversimplifying and adding 2 and 2 to make 5 - but it's tempting to make assumptions about priorities that are profoundly discouraging. 
Of course worship is not all about church, and being an hospitable church community can happen on any day of the year, not just at the carol service...but still and all, there are questions around tonight that I'd just as soon not have to answer.

One of the things that the community loves about valley church at Christmas is the star that appears, miraculously, atop the tower - the gift of a local family who not only construct it annually, but also get it safely into place.
On Friday afternoon it was shining out proud and confident.
Today the snow had obviously led to some bulbs blowing - the framework is there but only one bulb is alight. To say it looks half-hearted would be a definite overstatement.


Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Our Circuit Advent Service scheduled for 5 December was cancelled, unnecessarily, as it turned out, because it thawed.

No sign of a thaw this morning, and we cancelled the local preacher supposed to be coming, who is recovering from cancer and still very frail, and one of the stewards stood in. A much better turn-out than any of the stewards expected - people were sensible and used walking-sticks and so on, and it was good that so many did make the effort. Congregation really not much smaller than normal, although one or two familiar faces were conspicuous by their absence!

Cal said...

Oh honey. We have become a nation of cosseted wimps haven't we. I'm pretty sure our ancesters trudged through snow on a regular basis. And carols, candles and snow are a magical combination.

Your church is fab, I loved the welcome I got as a visitor. Don't let this all get out if proportion.

Much love, thoughts and prayers with you and your folk.

Chris said...

I really feel for you in this. I get furious at the lack of gump in some quarters, and at the assumption that if you're going out to a carol service in the afternoon you don't need to bother going to Eucharist in the morning. Maybe the fact that I'm married to the organist, and that we were all set to walk today if the car couldn't get out of our lane, colours my response, but I felt the same impotent fury last year when a handful of people decided to cancel a service in the morning and then phoned round with the fait accompli.
Hope you feel better soon, and find some way to convey to your PCC that they need to take a long clear look at themselves.

Songbird said...

So sorry for this disappointment, K.

Red said...

I really sympathise. I've missed a few services recently either due to the weather or illness (of me or more usually the kids!). The carol service is always a special one and I missed our last night thanks to the dreaded flu. It always symbolises the start of the Christmas celebrations for me and a good reminder of what we are actually doing, before the day.It pales into insignificence, but my Tesco shopping delivery was cancelled today due to the snow and I agree with Chris about the lack of 'gump' in some. Here the roads are completely clear so there was no reason to cancel my order, but I think to some at this busy time of year any excuse for some time off is readily snatched. Don't take it to heart that people cried off easily, perhaps your regulars are just as exhausted as the rest of the country!
best wishes