Monday, 17 September 2012

Revised Rules for Counters

It is my duty, as Treasurer of the Beaker Folk, to be responsible for the accurate counting of all attendees at Occasions, Ceremonies and other similar gatherings-together.

People have often asked me - since there is no centralised levy based on attendance, why is all this counting necessary? To which I reply - you have to count things. If nobody ever counted things, how would we know how many there are? I think that is pretty well unanswerable. As a great man once said, "Ha-ha-ha! I love to count!"

Of course, if I am present at the Occasion myself, I will normally do the counting. However there are times when I will be at work, particularly if delayed due to a serious discrepancy in the number of tractors, chickens or marbles, and it will be necessary for me to delegate the counting role. I will of course carry out intensive training in this case - but I hope what I list below will be a handy ready-reckoner.

(a) At any given Occasion, count each person only once.

(b) If somebody is leading an Occasion, do not count them, as they are not attendees - they are leaders.

(c) If two people are co-leading an Occasion, simply subtract one from the total number present. There can only be one nominal leader, no matter how co-operative and un-hierarchical we think we are.

(d) If somebody goes in and out, do not count them twice. If you are not very good with names and faces, it may be necessary to write on their hand with indelible ink to ensure they are not recounted.

(e) If somebody gets marked with indelible ink one day, the chances are that they will still be marked the following day. That is what "indelible" means. It is therefore a good idea to have a marker in your own special indelible ink colour, to avoid this becoming a major problem.

(f) If somebody attends twice in one day, only count them once. If you are not doing the counting at the second event, give the counter at the second event a complete list of who was at your event. If you aren't very good at names (see (d) above), it is probably best if you simply mark everybody with indelible ink, and tell the second counter what colour you are using.

(g) If you aren't very good with faces and names, and somebody else is counting the Occasion before you on the same day, ask them to mark everybody with indelible ink. Or, if you find out too late that they have not done this, ask for the list of names they took and get everybody who attends to tick their own names on the list, to indicate they have been at a previous Occasion on the same day and therefore don't need to be counted.

(h) If you are counting twice in two days, and you aren't very good with names (or even if you are and you're just avoiding counting people who've wandered in and out) you will need a different coloured indelible ink.

(i) Don't forget to count yourself - unless you are leading as well as counting. Since you will probably remember who you are, you will not need to mark yourself with indelible ink, whether you wander in and out or not, and no matter how bad you are with names.

(j) Enter the numbers attending into the four age-related brackets: Under 18; 18-40; 41-60; 61 upwards. If in any doubt as to which age group a woman falls into, guess the lower one. DO NOT ASK.

If this system does not work, I have plans to RF-ID tag everybody in the Community. In this case we will install electronic Beaker Folk counters. However all the rules above will still apply to visitors. It is still regarded as very bad form in this country, to put a micro-chip into the back of somebody's neck if they are just visiting.


  1. Now I know why I refused to be involved in the ministry of welcome.

    I've noted in my lay minister/server capacity that when the Church Wardens bring the offerings of the faithful to the Altar, they always utter "51' or whatever number to the Priest 'sotto voice'.

    Now, I understand what they are doing - they are giving the Vicar the results of their calculations.

    I've often thought that some sort of sensor under the door mat connected to a counting machine of some sort would be simpler and wouldn't tax the brains so much.

    And of course, health and safety means that someone must be responsible for counting people in and out (in case of evacuation) and ensure that no one is left on the premises and report to the emergency services that all are accounted for.

    Such a tiresome thankless task.

    1. UK Viewer, the trouble with a door mat sensor is that it cannot tell the difference between someone going in and going out - being, as it is, unequipped with indelible ink.

      Unlike a Church Warden, it also cannot tell communicant from uncommunicant members of the congregation. Whereas Churchwardens and the like have a knack for these things.

    2. The reason the collection is taken at the Offertory is, of course, that it is the most appropriate moment for the communication of the Mystic Number to the celebrant, so that he can adjust the number of wafers in the ciborium accordingly. Contemporary Anglican liturgical principles being what they are, however – viz., do whatever you like so long as it sounds nice – it has had some rather disconcerting effects, such as the plethora of well-meaning but theologically horrific "Prayers at the Preparation of the Table" [sic] which say things along the lines of "we offer you this bread, wine and money (!!!!!)". (The only money I can recall in connection with the Institution of the Eucharist was the money that Judas went out from the Last Supper to acquire.)

      The other effect is the liturgicalisation (is that a word? Well, it is now) of the Chinese Whispers-type communication of the Number from churchwarden to server to priest – which continues to take place even when other, more practical means have been established for guessing the number of communicants. I expect that in 30 years' time, when every church has indelible-ink-equipped door mat sensors to count attendance, and collections have been replaced by RFID-activated automatic direct debits from every attendee's bank account, the Church's official liturgy will still require the Churchwardens to process up the aisle and utter the Mystic Number. Perhaps the then Prayer Book will contain complicated tables in its opening pages, so that one may work out the correct Number for the occasion.

  2. I can't help noticing that this procedure assumes that Total People Present = Total Number of Communicants.

    This was not the case in some churches I have attended, where either a modest awareness of a lack of forgiveness towards a brother or possibly a vague conviction that one should take Communion only on special occasions, like Easter, kept people in their seats. And children, if small enough, might be carried up for a blessing, but wouldn't communicate. I assume the priests eventually learned what percentage of those present would be coming up from experience, but it would be more efficient if the congregation voted as they arrived.

    On of my relatives, an agnostic who had driven some of the family to the church, and sat inside because even sitting in the pews was more comfortable than waiting in the car, got caught off-guard by a congregation in which EVERYONE went up to the altar rail to take Communion. As he said afterwards, he felt far too conspicuous sitting by himself, so of course he went up!

    1. Cheryl, Burton's counting has nothing to do with communicants. He just likes to count. All this Anglican stuff is a huge distraction from his original post.

  3. I attended the "Cowley Dads" (alias the conventual church of St John - I think) when up at Oxford in the seventies and was most impressed by their system for ensuring exactly the correct number of wafers at communion. As each person entered they were offered a container of wafers and invited to transfer one to the container (presumably the ciborium - many thanks to Fr William for giving me the correct terminology) from which the wafers were to be dispensed during communion. Thus only those intending to take communion were counted - and no indelible ink or whispered magic numbers were required at all.

    I suppose there could still be problems if any member of the congregation came to the conclusion during the course of the service that they were unworthy to receive or conversely worked out that this WAS a sufficiently special occasion after all to justify taking communion, but on the whole it seems to me to be the most reliable method of avoiding the presiding priest having to munch his way through large numbers of excess consecrated wafers.


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