Friday, 8 April 2022

I Have Measured Out My Life in Hallelujahs

Intrigued by the response - mostly of laity - to this reasonable question, from the @OurCofELike account about how many C of E clergy say the Daily Office regularly (twice a day being the legal requirement, as it were). I should at this point add the #NotAllLaity hashtag. And also, in these circumstances, the #NotAllClergy as that's how many say two Daily Offices.

And as an illustration, I'd like to borrow - if nobody minds - the brilliant adoption of the "spoons" terminology that people with, some medical conditions sometimes use to describe what they are capable of today. The concept taken from Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: "I have measured out my life in coffee spoons." 

Now, it should be pointed out that some clergy do suffer from diseases that involve the management of fatigure. Some are suffering from Long Covid. Many are just plain exhausted after two years of ministry in a strange world with more funerals, a divided society, people not going to church for fear of catching a deadly disease, and yet the demands for Parish Share and Statistics for Mission being unchanged. Many are exhausted from sheer caring.

But remembering that many aren't - I'm sure - let's invent the unit of Clergy Energy and Effectiveness. Let's call it the Hallelujah (symbol Hj). The Hj has a close relationship of course with its SI equivalent, the Joule (or the Calorie, for clergy that prefer BCP). And let's assume you're a fit, healthy, 50-year-old Clergy starts the day with 1,000 Hj - if you will, a kilohallelujah.

And the day is as well planned as can be. There are meetings in the diary, but space is left for prayer, and for the preparation of (and recording of) sermons. Study is of course pretty much excluded from the daily clerical routine. But you're intending to plan a study day. On the Noneteenth of Someuary.

The day starts brightly with ablutions. A cup of coffee sits steaming on the study desk. The 8.30 am Morning Prayer in church is blocked out. For which a ten minute walk is required. Healthy, bracing exercise. The perfect minister's day.

The phone rings. It's one of the 10 Wardens. Or, strictly speaking, 7. Little Tremlett has only the one, nonagenarian, warden. And at Great Tremlett they have an annual service to remember the day the Last Warden died and, like the nation of Gondor, they eagerly await the day when Elendil's Warden's Wand will be repaired and claimed by the Warden-That-is-to-Come. So the vicar's got the job.

But this is Melissa on the phone. Apart from her deathly poetry, she's a very capable Warden. But she went for a walk in the  churchyard at Grilsby-on-the-Hill this morning and there's a badger. Or, rather, traces of badger. Diggings around some of the graves and some rather unpleasant droppings. She goes into unnecessary detail.

Melissa says Jeb (local gravedigger, handyman and suspected lurker in the woods) is asking what poison is best. You tell her it's illegal to poison badgers. She then says OK - what about hitting them with a spade when they pop out? You tell her that is also illegal. She'll have to live with it, maybe repair the holes, and refer anyone worried about the remains of Aunt Flossie to you.

It's time to go church. In fact it's just past time. You leave your cold coffee and set off on your walk. Having been refreshed by a reasonable night's sleep, in which you only woke screaming about faculty rules twice, you don't notice the 25 Hj that just went out of you.

Heading down the road, you meet Arthur. Arthur wishes you a good morning. Says how nice it is to see a vicar about the place. Then takes the time to tell you that old Parson Marson did things properly. Would never be seen in public without his cassock. Ten minutes, and 20 hallelujahs, have gone by the time he goes off to catch the bus.

You now don't actually have time to finish the walk to church, say the Office, and then walk back. There is an assembly shortly. So you go back to the paraonage. Put the kettle on for a cup of tea. And stream the excellent Facebook morning prayer from All Saints with Holy Trinity, Loughborough.

While you're at it, you fill in a burial form to send to the Registrar. Then have to double check via Google how the Winklesea Registry Office is operating under the fag end of Covid changed rules - the deceased died while on holiday.  Turns out they've moved Registrar operations to the big office at Spilefleet, but not changed their form. You've not got a paper form via the funeral directors, in case you catch Covid. So you print off the form. But the form's green, and your printer has run out of coloured toner - you've prioritised Parish Share over luxuries since you've missed 9 months of plate offerings over the last two years - so you spend twenty minutes cancelling print jobs, and rebooting computer and printer so they're talking to each other again after the cancellation.

The form comes, out and you deal with it. You wonder vaguely what the reading was in Morning Prayer. But it's ten minutes till assembly. So you put the kettle back on, click on the Zoom link for the Assembly, boot up the PowerPoint and scramble for "special thing" that is used as a prayer focus. It's a stuffed hedgehog, for no obvious reason. You wonder how you'll fit it into the camera, but realise that's academic as the Zoom screen is just whirling sadly at you and no meeting is appearing. You wonder if it's quicker to wait or to reboot Zoom or the computer. You notice that 50 Hallelujahs oozed out of you while you were scrambling under the printer to find a new pack of paper, while it was shredding the last pages of the current pack.

By the time Zoom is working, the teacher i/c assemblies is playing library recordings of Hillsong music. You put the  task of telling him why that is problematic into a box marked "next time I'm in school." Scrap the PowerPoint - which you spent three hours creating - and summarise the story of Ruth and Naomi into "Ruth was very loyal. Her sister-in-law not so much. They all lived happily ever after." Some Hallelujahs escape from you as you say the final prayer and shut down Zoom 

You have a Pastoral Meeting in ten minutes. You put the kettle on, and feed the cat.

The Pastoral Meeting is via Zoom because Maisie Daisie hasn't left the house since March 2020 except for vaccinations. As far as you're aware, she has no actual medical conditions, and she's only 35. She just thinks you can't be too careful. She appears on screen in two masks and a visor. The phone rings. For the 14th meeting running, Melanie has forgotten to plug her camera in. Gabriel is trying to Zoom using 3G from his phone, because he believes broadband causes scabies. There is a ten minute delay while he drives to Melissa's. Melissa spends an hour telling everyone about the badger.

You have a funeral visit. It's a tough one. You chuck 100 Hallelujahs on top of the the fifty that the badger ate.

They didn't offer you a coffee so when you get back home, via a trip to the shop where a parishioner asked you at great length why you're never seen in the village, and where you bought a pasty to eat on the go, you put the kettle on before you have to go out to talk to the architect about the crack in the tracery at Great Tremlett. You get a call to ask if you can stop walking your dog in Little Tremlett churchyard. You spend twenty minutes explaining that, though it's your churchyard and you'll walk your dog in it if you like, you don't actually own a dog. Your will to live is creeping out along with some more Hallelujahs.

You have dreams of one day cycling round the parishes - the full Father Brown job, resplendent in cassock. But as usual it's drizzling and you're short of time. So you drive to Great Tremlett and look sadly at the crack in the tracery. The architect asks why your Wardens don't deal with this kind of thing. You reflect that at least if you ever murdered an architect, you'd be able to find somewhere to hide the body.

It's 3pm. You left the pasty on the unit in the kitchen, next to the cup of coffee you made at 8 am. And your next call is to Woodby Chapel End, where you are taking Mary Mandible her Home Communion. Only there's no answer at the door. Panicking, for Mary never leaves the house, you phone her. You can hear the ringing inside, but no one picks up. You knock on her neighbour's door. 

He tells you that Mary's gone away for a week to Winklesea. You mention that you've heard that's a dangerous place. But - more to the point - how on earth has she managed that? Apparently her boyfriend's taken her for a week of sun, sand and whatever else can be accommodated with her dodgy joints. You go back to the car, wondering how, when the time comes, to tackle the subject of whether Mary might like to actual come to church on Sundays in future.

It should be Evening Prayer, but nobody has joined you in church since last October. And that was someone who was hoping to steal the lectern. So you figure you'll say it in your study. So you go home and put the kettle on. Throw the pasty - warm from the sun - in the bin. Your spouse - back home from work - asks which of you will make dinner. You suggest, given the day you've both had, that you order takeaway. Again. You give thanks that your spouse earns enough to be able to afford to buy takeaways. You put the kettle on, to boil while you say Evening Prayer. You need the time and space - your Hallelujah levels are running low. The Grilsby-on-the-Hill Facebook page, you notice from your phone, is full of uproar about the badger invasion.

As you go to the study, someone knocks the door. There's nobody there. It's just the time of day when students returning from school think it's funny to "play knock-up ginger".

The fourth time, you tear out just in time to catch, on the doorstep, Doreen. She's coming back from the doctors, having discovered what she's got. You spend a couple of hours with Doreen in prayer and chat. And get your first cup of coffee of the day, finally.

As Doreen goes home, your spouse asks what you'd like as a takeaway and when. You remind the spouse that you have a PCC meeting in Woodby, but it will surely be over by nine.

At the PCC there's a major fallout over whether to put an LED light into the toilet in Woodby church hall straightaway, or to wait until the existing 30W incandescent bulb finally goes and then replace it. There is a long story about how Parson Marson installed that bulb in 1957.
At 10.30 pm you are eating cold Prawn Madras out of the tin tray. Spouse has gone to bed. You remember that you haven't said Evening Prayer yet. You go into the study, and find - somewhere deep down in your soul - one, remaining, cold and broken Hallelujah. You can't face the thought of finding your pages in Common Worship, and your eyes are too tired to read from the screen. So you switch on the recording from 6 pm's "Shrine Prayers" from Walsingham. You enjoy the silence for a few minutes, as you await them start of the Angelus.
You wake up at 3 am with your face in the Madras tray.


  1. "the Joule (or the Calorie, for clergy that prefer BCP)" a brilliant combination of science, satire and a detailed knowledge of the C of E

  2. Wonders about a Bishop's response an Ad Clerum "On why you shouldn't use Hallelujahs in Lent" now let that be a lesson to you...

  3. Just brilliant but at the same time sad

  4. When I was training as an accountant in the 1980s, our firm (famous for the quality of its training) had a slogan about how client service "is our number-one priority", but we had a hard-and-fast internal rule that attending training courses ALWAYS took priority over client service, the stated reason being that, if it had been otherwise, no-one would ever have got round to attending a training course.

  5. Do you have a video camera in my study?


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