Sunday, 15 April 2012

Stand-in Sunday

And so, all round the country, Readers are experiencing that last-thing panic as they wonder whether there's anything new to say about Thomas. Local Preachers are checking the SatNav to ensure they can get to that village they've not visited since Sunday after Easter 2 years ago. And stand-in thurifers look wistfully at inert charcoal and wonder whether lighter fuel is a good idea*

Those of us old enough will still call this "Low Sunday". But I think I prefer a new title - "Stand-in Sunday". Any superintendent minister, incumbent, or Head Holy Honcho with a little financial nous will have stayed "on duty" as long as possible last week, safe in the knowledge that many of the folk in their care will have been dodging hailstones at Hemsby, Skeggy or Minehead. I discount those fellowship leaders, of course, who went to Spring Harvest and so weren't at their home church Easter Day - they have already received their reward. But all the other (child-free) regular post-holders and church officials will be off enjoying the cheap holiday week.

So today it's the faithful substitutes who step in. The visiting organist has been practising "Breathe on me, breath of God" for the last twelve months, just waiting for the call. Unfortunately after all this practice he's got bored with the normal tune, and has found a 9th century plainsong that almost fits. The brass was polished yesterday in a second-best-polisher kind of way. The flowers have been arranged in a "only flower arranger around" fashion. And the job of putting things onto other things has been given to anyone who happens to be passing.

The step-in Door Steward, in a fit of pique at being overlooked for the big gig last week, is handing out copies of the old Methodist Hymn Book. No, not Hymns and Psalms. The old one.

It's a celebration, is Stand-in Sunday, of the fact that the church is a body, not a couple of stars with a load of followers. What will the body do without an eye? A kidney will have to stand in for the week. What if the body were all just a foot?  Well, for one Sunday only, it will have to hop up and down to praise the Lord.
The praise will be just as valuable, for all that the Worship Leader's away wishing he was Vicky Beeching (I've always worried about that worship leader). Not least because we won't get a ten-minute anecdote before each song, and we won't be told how much that song has to lift us up / challenge us / give us the faith as much as a gnat, so we can move camels. [Hnaef, can you check I've got this right?]

The point is that, after a certain amount of doubt and confusion, and despite the odd random explosion because the 3rd Heating Deacon has forgotten the crucial order in which to switch the boiler on; despite the occasional Lay Preacher who's convinced it must be Christmas if she's been asked to step in: despite the panic as it's realised that one acolyte will have to carry two candles and the cross while balancing the Gospel on her head - the show must go on.

You may realise that in fact God's just as pleased if the sermon does not include insights into Platonic Realism: or Anarcho-Syndicalism; or Bristol Rovers or whatever the vicar's favourite method of shedding light is. God doesn't count the altar party and know them all by name (actually, God does - but won't hold that against you when it's just you on your own, meandering down the front with your dodgy knee). If the ciborium's 3" to the left, or the Big Bible is not held up for precisely 17 seconds after the reading; if the worship leader's not given every different sociological sub-group a chance to sing a verse on its own in an attempt to discover the worshipping Weakest Link (Clue: men under 30 and the creche are the worst at singing complex theological love-songs) - God won't worry.

In fact, even if the entire congregation has gone to Bridlington and left you on your own - you may wonder what they've got against you, but God won't have anything. Once you've unlocked, switched the heating on, taught yourself to play the organ, sung a couple of hymns, granted  absolution** to Old Mr Hanwell, who's been missed off the invite list to Brid because of his drunken exploits last year, preached a sermon, made and drunk the coffee and moaned about the sermon - God will be just as pleased as if there'd been 10,000 of you in a borrowed football stadium. And possibly amused, if you tried to get Mr Hanwell to "come forward" at the Altar Call.

So it's a great thing, Stand-in Sunday. And I'll be observing it myself, by taking the morning off. Although, of course, I'm not trusting that shower of Beaker Folk to manage completely without me. Oh no. Android Eileen, the robotic Archdruid, will be leading Pouring Out of Beakers. I've programmed her with one of Wesley's sermons, as well. So they should all have a great time.

*No. Really, no.
** Be very careful. In Anglican, Orthodox or Catholic contexts - look down to see if, judging by the clothing, you appear to be a priest of some kind before doing this.


  1. Bristol Rovers? Casting light? Oh dear....

  2. I find it worrying (because it suggests that I might not be as young as I was) the number of times that I come up with the perfect hymn to suit my sermon theme, look for it in Hymns & Psalms (I suppose soon I'll have to get to grips with Singing the Faith) and discover that it isn't in the "New book". Sometimes you just can't do without the MHB! fortunately most organists are happy to locate a copy in some almost-forgotten store room.

  3. Must go now - off to find that village where I last preached in August 2009!

    1. Interesting concept. I was due at one church for something or other, when I received a panicky phone call from another - pleading with me to fill in there. I know that I might be superhuman, but not being God or Jesus, I find it physically impossible to be in two places at the same time.

      I offered to bless them by mobile phone if it would help, but some coughing and spluttering ensued, and we were cut off mid-stream.

      Stand-in's have their limitations I'll have you know. At the first service the celebrant was left standing outside the church in early morning cold as both Church Wardens with keys had taken a holiday, and each had forgotten to tell the other. Being that the church is 1200 years old, the door is fairly sturdy, and we didn't have a battering ram handy to break it down. After considering an Al-fresco service, with substitute crisps and cola for communion, the stand-in, for the stand-in for the stand-in church warden, turned up with 5 minutes to go, having slept in after a rather heavy night in a local hostelry.

      The next drama was entering the vestry - somebody had neglected to say where everything was hidden (a nearby church was recently burgled) and the new security precautions hadn't been disseminated to the uninitiated stand-in, for the stand-in, stand-in CW.

      Eventually got the service underway, all of this adversity seemed to make the celebrant nervous and twitchy - The BCP service sounded like a machine gun as we raced through it at breakneck speed. Turned out they had another stand-in, stand-in commitment at a benefice 30 miles away. Their locum duties seems to be giving them a nervous breakdown.

      I had to point out that this chaos was normal, and was even worse when the full team were present.

      Loving it all, Stand-in Sunday is every Sunday where we worship. And weren't the disciples a bit chaotic, they locked them selves in and Jesus still managed to pick the locks and get in. So, we can see that this sort of thing goes back to the early church - discipleship has been passed down from generation to generation, unsullied and uncorrupted by progress and efficiency.

  4. We also needed a locksmith today as the key to the church safe failed to work. A churchwarden managed to rustle up a chalice but papers for the AGM remained locked away. The skeleton under the church coffee table will have to remain there for a little longer, there are still forms to be filled. Ah well, I don't see why she shouldn't make it to her half centenary.

  5. We waited for the worship leader to arrive, thinking he had selected the songs. Turned out he hadn't so we got the congregation to choose their own five minutes before start of play. Then there was a power cut half way through Reign in Me and the second half of each verse of Be Thou My Vision was missing from the Powerpoint. But we sang on regardless.

  6. Our priest got a text last night that said his stand-in was in labor and he had to concoct a sermon after all. He didn't even know exactly which readings were prescribed for today beyond the gospel. Having been caught with this news just as the Three Stoges movie started. He was at the theatre with his three boys trying to enjoy a little R&R. He managed to pull together a sermon that actually created a connection between the three Stoges and the story of Thomas - no small feat!!


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