Wednesday 29 June 2022

Hymnwriters Go Shopping Number 6 - Sydney Carter

Shopkeeper: Hello, Mr Carter. What are you looking for?

Sydney Carter: Hello, O guardian of the shop. I need to write a heretical song, yet one whose folksy whimsy makes people think it's down with the youth.

Shopkeeper: A challenge indeed. Even for a songsmith as dreadful as yourself. But why are you here in this furniture shop?

SC: I've invited some friends round to help. The world's worst artist: Andy Warhol. The world's worst hippy songwriter: John Lennon. And the world's worst poet: William McGonagall. I'm hoping having such low-quality company will inspire me to write something really terrible.

Shopkeeper: So why are you here?

SC: I only have one chair currently in my Whimsytorium, where I write terrible hymns. I need adequate seating.

Shopkeeper: So you need a three-seater piece of furniture for your guests?

SC: Correct. 

Shopkeeper: And given such unexciting company, you'll be wanting a really colourful item of furniture? Brighten things up?

SC: Not at all. Last time I let Lennon sit on a brightly-coloured seat, he wrote "Imagine." We can't run the risk of anything so tragic happening again. I need a dull colour. Beige?

Shopkeeper: Cream? Brown? Buff?

SC: Something in between. I need an uninteresting, light grey-brown, three-seater.

Shopkeeper: I have just the thing over there I think - in the clearance section. I've been wanting to sell it off cheap because I'm sick of the sight of it.

SC:You don't like it?

Shopkeeper: I am so bored of the dun settee.

SC: Actually, forget it. I may not need my guests after all.

Monday 27 June 2022

Hymnwriters Go Shopping Number 5 - Robin Mark

Assistant: Welcome to Harrods, Mr Mark. How can I help you?

Robin Mark: I was wondering if you could explain what is the meaning of some of the department signs. What is "Haberdashery?"

Assistant: Being Harrods, this is where you will find the high-class buttons and sewing requisites.

Robin Mark: And the Salon de Parfums?

Assistant: That is where we keep the fine scents and colognes.

Robin Mark: And the lingerie department?

Assistant: That is where we keep expensive items of underclothing. Such as the dear pants.

Sunday 26 June 2022

At 6s and 7s

Having to calm everyone down after this morning's hymn numbers that Young Keith chose. To wit:


It's not that they fitted the readings or the sermon. He just wanted to upset Bryn, who does the hymn numbers on the board. That's a lot of Tippex and number 8's he's gone through today.

Saturday 25 June 2022

The Shiny-Shoed Prophet Syndrome

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, ‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.
When the company of prophetswho were at Jericho saw him at a distance, they declared, ‘The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.’ They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. (2 Kings 2:13-15)

 Bit of an odd character, Elisha. Only summoner of boy-eating bears recorded in the Bible. Famously bald.

And it appears he really wasn't happy about Elijah going up to heaven. Because every time someone tells him Elijah is going to be carried off, Elisha tells them to be quiet. Obviously he doesn't want to lose his boss. But is he wondering whether he'll be up to the job - Elijah's some act to follow obviously.

But it's going to happen. And he knows he needs the full inheritace of the Spirit from Elijah if he's going to take on the job.

Now, couple of comments about business (and politics, and often the church) here. 

We confuse confidence with competence. What is it that so many people get fooled by a fool who can talk a good game? Why do evangelicals always need to follow a visionary? Why are they always, in Michael Saward's phrase, "suckers for a prophet"? We always follow the people who believe they're good - forgetting that they may be too dim to know how unqualified they are for the job. Don't fall for the chap who turns up to an interview with shiny shoes, and think he's the one to do a great job - his mum probably shone them for him before he went out. Ask hard questions.  Don't be dazzled by the shiny shoes.

And how often to businesses bring people in to follow roles, rather than promoting people into vacancies? I've often wondered why it is - and I suspect it's because they know the flaws of the people they've got in the business already. Whereas they can believe anything they like about someone they bring in from the outside. Particularly if they have shiny shoes.

Whereas God is clearly planning to promote Elisha. And he doesn't like it. Maybe his shoes aren't shiny enough.

But what Elijah does know is - if he's going to do the job God clearly have in mind for him - he's only going to do it in the power of God's Spirit. When that chariot goes up into heaven - he's going to need the mantle of Elijah.

And what humility he shows. When he approaches the Jordan, he knows that Elijah crossed it using his mantle - and he does the same thing. But he doesn't do it in his own strength, he does it in humble trust in the Spirit: "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" and he gets his answer. The Lord, the God of Elijah, is his God as well.

Don't trust in shiny shoes. Don't trust in people whose confidence outweighs their competence. Trust in the God of Elijah. It's likely that God is expecting you to do something. If so, don't trust in your ability. But don't doubt it either. Trust in the God of Elijah.

Thursday 23 June 2022

Hymnwriters Go Shopping Number 4 - Pete Seeger

Shopkeeper: Look, chum, have you come in to buy some stationery? Or are you just going to stand there describing it?

A Midsummer Night's Bream

I know this really doesn't have much to do with the Saint himself. But Beaker Folk are invited to this evening's All Night Angler Church to celebrate St John's Eve.

The idea is to have a seeker-friendly event where we can sit quietly, in the stillness around the duckpond, consider our calling to be Fishers for People, and wait for the sight of the sun rising within the great Trilithon of Duckhenge. Before we then move Duckhenge round to the other end of the pond, ready for the Winter Solstice sunset.

Every hour, we will hear a reading from the Good Book ("Fly Fishing" by J.R.Hartley)

Sitting around the pond, attentively, gives a very real sense of mindfulness. And the fact that there are no fish in the pond means we will not have the distraction of catching anything. The perfect Midssumer Night.

Except for the Beaker Fertility Folk. They have their own ideas of what to do on Midsummer's Night. I'll stay with All Night Angler Church.

The Beaker Initiation Environmental Promises

I note that the Diocese of Oxford has jumped on the green bandwagon with its new post-baptism promises to protect the environment.

Although its aims to insulate vicarages might be more effective in the real world, on the slightly-vague-promises-we-sort-of-want-to-keep plane, they're still a way behind us.

In our last post-naming-ceremony, for instance, Orik gave the following affirmations:

Archdruid: Do you commit yourself to getting around more by bike, or failing that a Tesla?

Candidate: Oh yes. Definitely the Tesla.

Archdruid: That wasn't an "exclusive-or".

Candidate: Sure. 

Archdruid: Do you promise to shop only in environmentally aware shops, or Co-op?

Candidate: Or Waitrose?

Archdruid: Oh yes. Waitrose is lovely.

All: It's a bit pricier, but you get what you pay for.

Archdruid: Will you stop burning tyres in Top Field?

Candidate: And give up my livelihood?

Archdruid: Environmental decisions can be tricky.

Candidate: I'll offset some CO2 by planting a tree.

Archdruid: Will you only fly for really good business reasons, which you definitely can't fulfil by Zoom, and definitely aren't jollies to Amsterdam?

Candidate: Definitely. Can I bring you something back next time?

Archdruid: Redcurrant gin?

Candidate: Absolutely.

Archdruid: Will you use only ineffective green detergent for washing purposes in your house, so you can go around in slightly gray "whites" with a martyr's smile?

Candidate: Of course. But I'll still need Turtle Wax for the Tesla.

Wednesday 22 June 2022

The Performative DudeBro Church Does the Beatitudes

HeadDudeBro: Blessed are those that say controversial things.

DudeBroCongregation: For they shall say they were quoted out of context.

HeadDudeBro: Blessed are the Delingpoles

DudeBroCongregation: For they shall be followed by Twitter accounts with lots of zeroes in their names and flags on their profile..

HeadDudeBro: Blessed are those that equate celebrating people's sexuality with criminality.

DudeBroCongregation: For they shall get in the Chuch Times.

HeadDudeBro: Blessed are those that get a backlash to the cruel things they say.

DudeBroCongregation: For they will say they are persecuted

HeadDudeBro: Blessed are those that trust faith over medecine.

DudeBroCongregation: For they shall have medicine to fall back on.

HeadDudeBro: Blessed are those that indulge in ad-hominems.

DudeBroCongregation: For they shall say claim other people are being nasty to them.

HeadDudeBro: Blessed are skinny white ageing former actors who pretent they're tough.

DudeBroCongregation: For they shall find people like them to build them up.

Hymnwriters Go Shopping Number 3: Sue McClellan, John Paculabo, and Keith Ryecroft

Shopkeeper: Welcome to Mrs Toasty's Heating Emporium. We have a wide range of heat-source, air-source, gas-fired, solar, storage and.... Oh. It's you three again.

I'll get the Wood Burner catalogue.

Liturgy for the Day After the Summer Solstice

Archdruid: Nights are drawing in.

All: No, they're not.

Archdruid: You what?

All: Only kidding. Soon be Christmas.

Tuesday 21 June 2022

Hymnwriters Go Shopping Number 2 - Jan Struther

 Shopkeeper: Good afternoon, madam.Welcome to Cheddar George's Cheese Emporium.

 Jan Struther: Good afternoon, George. I would like 2 pounds of your finest Wensleydale.

Shopkeeper: Here you are, madam.

Jan Struther: Thank you very much. Here's four buttercups and twenty-seven daisies.

Shopkeeper: Give me the cheese back, and get out, you weirdo.

Monday 20 June 2022

The Game of Church Keys

Would you like to know what it's like being a clergy in a multi-church set-up? Wondering if village life with 4 or more buildings is right for you? 

Then why not play the Game of Church Keys? For one to any number of clergy. Although some of the other players may be part-time, or retired, so only play when they're available, or when they want to. So it may take some time.


Roll a 6 to leave the Rectory. Thereafter, take it in turns to roll the dice.

To keep all the congregations happy, you must visit all four churches at least once, but also an equal number of times. Which means if you get back to the Rectory, and you've been to, say St Pega's twice but St Gertrude's only once - you're going to have to go round again. And if you then land on St Pega's again... well, you know you've got to go all round again. 

And again.

And again.

Visits only count if you actually land on the church space. "Just showing your face" is not good enough.

 Game ends when you achieve the winning position as above, or when you decide to go back into teaching / retire / run off with the collection.



Click on the picture for best view of the game


Solstice Sunrise

 Can all Beaker Folk please note that we are aware that the sunrise tomorrow morning is very early. However God in their wisdom decided that the earth is on a slant and Husborne Crawley is quite high up, so that's how it is.

For those Beaker people unable to get up for the sunrise, please note it will be available to download shortly afterwards so you can watch it from the comfort of your own rooms.

Saturday 18 June 2022

Just the Whisper of an Echo

"Elijah" - abstract image, detail of stained glass from All Hallows' Wellingborough

 "and after the fire a sound of sheer silence" (1 Kings 19:12b)

The story so far… Elijah and the Prophets of Baal have had a “who’s got the best god” competition. Elijah has won, by calling down fire from heaven onto a soaking wet altar to burn the soaking wet sacrifice. Having won, he’s had all the Prophets of Baal killed. None of this is part of the training for Christian ministers in England, I notice. They tend more towards pebbles, tea lights and cairns.

But we’ve all done it, haven’t we. Come back from slaughtering our enemies and bringing down fire, and then you hit the wall. OK, so maybe not quite. We’ve all taken part in something really good – maybe organised something that worked really well, and then the adrenalin washes out of you and you think to yourself –  did I achieve anything worthwhile?

I remember Janis Joplin’s words. “Onstage I make love to twenty-five thousand people, then I go home alone” Again, not something Christian ministers are mostly trained for in the UK, though I notice a few in the states have a bash at something like this from time to time.

And let's face it - Elijah's just called fire from heaven. With that firepower at his disposal, he has no need to fear Jezebel's threats. The shortest war in history was in 1896. The self-declared Sultan of the tiny island state of Zanzibar refused to surrender to the British Empire. The war lasted roughly three quarters of an hour. This is roughly where Jezebel is in respect to Elijah. He knows he has the armies of the God of Israel on his side if he wants them.

But Elijah's spent. The adrenalin's gone. If he were an English vicar on a Sunday afternoon, after 3 services and two anonymous letters complaining about assorted issues that people feel VERY ANGRY ABOUT, he'd be asleep on the sofa. And he runs. Which is more than most Anglican vicars can do on a Sunday post-lunch, to be fair.

And he leaves his servant behind. Where's the sense in that? Maybe he thinks he's saving his servant form his own fate, but it's also one thing we can do in similar situations - when feeling low, we can decide we're either a pain or a hindrance to others. And then we lose the moral support we might need. As well as leaving them feeling hurt. But it happens.

And off he goes into the desert. And he asks to die. But he's got the common sense to fall asleep under a broom tree, so he's got some shade.

And when he wakes up, an angel is there.

Now you would think, wouldn't you, that if God's gone to all the trouble to send Elijah one of his supernatural assistants, that the least that could happen is some kind of miracle. But no - or not really - the angel gives him food and drink.

He has another nap. And another gift of food and drink from the angel. Sometimes you can come to the conclusion that you're under spiritual attack - or you're useless or ineffective or can't do anything - and maybe all you really needed was to get a good meal inside you. Remember the advert for Snickers - "you're not yourself when you're hangry." We're spiritual and physical beings. We need to look after both. And when we're suffering in one, the other can be affected.

And he's ready to go. Forty days and nights. That good old reliable number 40. There's parallels all over this passage aren't there? Moses and the people of Israel were in the desert forty years. And while they were there, they were fed with manna and with water from the rock. So Elijah's basically Israel in isolation here. This is the way he feels. He reckons he's the only one fighting the good fight - despite the fact that he manifestly had help in slaying the Prophets of Baal - and he is just little Israel all on his own. Carrying the faith of The LORD all by himself.

And Jesus spent forty days in the desert as well. And he was tended by angels. And he was again the ultimate representative of Israel.

And like Jesus, who stood on a mountain when he was tempted and again when he was transfigured (with Moses and Elijah alongside, remember) - and again on a hill just off Mount Zion when he died - Elijah arrives at a mountain. Mount Horeb, where Moses saw the burning bush. Where he struck water from the rock. Where - according to Deuteronomy - he received the 10 Commandments. This is the mountain of God. And, if it's where it is supposed to be according to tradition, it's conveniently not in Israel. In fact, it's not even in Judah. It's in Egypt. It's a place where he is safe. And so he can relax. And he can listen to God.

And doesn't he moan first? I've done it all on my own - he hadn't. He's the only one left. No he's not. But still, get it off your chest, Elijah.

And he gets these revelations of God's power. The earthquake, the wind and the fire. And yet - though these are God's doing - God is not in there. But they're great reminders of who's on Elijah's side, whatever he claims.

And then the "sound of sheer silence", the "daughter of a voice", the "still small voice", the whisper of an echo. And we don't hear what it says. But the echo of the voice clearly lets him know who's on his side. But it's the voice that stands him up, and turns him round, and sends him back out. But he's had to get out in the silence to hear it.

And now he's up and running. Maybe we all need those wilderness, those mountain-top experiences to hear that whisper of an echo sometimes. And fed, rested, in touch with God - now he knows he's not alone. God is with him. And so are God's faithful people. He's ready to go.

(Stained glass "Elijah" detail from stained glass at All Hallows, Wellingborough)

Hymnwriters Go Shopping Number 1 - Charles Wesley

Shopkeeper: Ah, hello, Mr Wesley. What can I do for you?

Charles Wesley: Hello, bicycle shop owner. I was wondering if you could repair my bicycle?

Shopkeeper: And what is wrong with it this time, Mr Wesley?

Charles Wesley: My....

John Wesley (running in): Charles! Stop! It's not funny anymore!

Sunday 12 June 2022

Organist Shortage

Some of you have been complaining that the Beaker Quire are playing too much at our Occasions and Meetings.

An objection I can understand. As a group consisting of a mandolin with a string missing, an ocarina, and a hay-fever-sufferer playing a kazoo can be difficult to pick up the tune from. Or the rhythm.

But we have an organist shortage. A serious organist shortage.

She can't reach the keys. And if she sits on enough cushions, she can't reach the pedals.

In other news, having read a tweet from a famous Anglican on the feast, Charlii's Holy Trinity sermon will no longer be on Pride and Diversity. Instead the title will be "Why Can't We all be Normal, Like God?"

Tuesday 7 June 2022

Reduced Effort, Increased Resilience

As we unwind out of Covid, it's a challenging time in the Church world. Vicars all over the country are discovering that there are fewer volunteers. In some cases, church wardens have become almost extinct. People that used to like taking minutes at Church meetings have discovered a whole world of Netflix that is more interesting.

And so vicars are wondering what they can do to fill the gaps. However, this often means doing it themselves. And vicars generally aren't good at IT. Or administration. Or project management. Or buildings maintenance. I've got a team doing some research into what they are good at. We're thinking maybe batik or something.

Anyway. If you're a vicar under pressure, and you just discovered your one remaining church warden died in 2021, and nobody else wants the gig because that would mean going to meetings and talking to builders and they've got so comfy they've not left the house since "Clap for Boris", then many church organisations suggest a methodology called "resilience". Or, as my old bosses used to call it when I worked in the real world, "stop whinging and get on with your job."

But it's becoming apparent that resilience alone isn't enough. Some church groups offer time management courses. But then people are often too busy to go. So what to do?

Well, I've done some research. Or, to be exact, I've been watching old episodes of "Vicar of Dibley", "Last of the Summer Wine" and "Midsomer Murders". And I've identified a lot of time that can be saved which can then be used to do everyone else's jobs more efficiently.

Never answer the door 
Absolutely key, this. You'll never get Sadistics for Mission filled in if you have a constant stream of annoying but vaguely whimsical parishioners appearing. Especially vergers. Never allow the verger in. You may end up as friends. And you really don't need anything as time-occupying as friends. As Our Lord said to Simon, "You are a rock. You are an island." Friends eat time. Avoid them.

Stop rearranging Hymn books
Every time Barnaby or Barnaby goes in a church, the vicar is in there rearranging the hymn books. Don't do it. Total waste of time. The congregation will find them even if they're slightly scruffily arranged. In fact, why not encourage people to just leave them on their seats at the end of services? Let's face it, there's enough of them to lag the walls with let alone have one on every seat. And they won't be in the cleaners' way as nobody's cleaned the place since Doris heard you can catch Covid from cans of Pledge.
Avoid Murdering People
Another Midsomer time-consumer. Don't murder people. You'll spend absolutely ages dealing with the police, making up alibis, and so on. On the bright side, if you're found guilty, you'll have tons of time. Or, for Boris Johnson's benefit, tonnes of time.  

Unnecessary Church Events
From what I can make out, vicars in Yorkshire in particular spend all their time arranging pageants, organising Jubilee celebrations, putting people in suits of armour for no obvious reason, or putting on musical versions of "The Tales of Beatrix Potter". Just stop. It's sucking up your time. And you never sell any tickets anyway. And that goes for your film of the history of the area. Don't do it. You are not a theatrical impresario. You're the one remaining relic of the feudal period left in the village. Act the part. And no, you're not going to get a pop star to open your fete. Unless you're Richard Coles. And that's cheating.
Church / Parish Meetings
Important thing number one. Don't confuse the Parish Council with the Parochial Church Council. Dawn French made that mistake. They are two different things. Important thing number two. Don't hold a PCC meeting every week. Especially not if you have six parishes.
Tell Your Parishioners to Stop Dying
I mean really. Deaths take up so much time. First they're not dead and you have to go into town to see them. And then they die and you have to talk to all the relatives. And then they insist on a cremation and you've got to go miles to do that. And then there's "you will just pop into the Green Horse afterwards" and next thing you know you've spent all day. And that's if they haven't revealed some massive secret on their death bed and you have to dress up as the Easter Bunny. Which leads me on to...

Don't Dress up
Really. You may be a chubby bloke. Don't put on a Santa's outfit. Do not dress up as the Easter Bunny - the rest of the village have all been conned into that one. On Easter Day, refuse all suggestions of a sunrise service on the grounds you're the Easter Bunny. And then refuse all suggestions you should be the Easter Bunny, on the grounds that you've a sunrise service. But when you say that, don't say where. Just wave enigmatically towards your other eight parishes.

Hanging Around in Churchyards
In Midsomer, vicars are always rearranging hymnbooks. But in Summer Wine Country, they're always hanging around in churchyards, or playing with train sets. Bit of advice - if you hang around in churchyards, you'll meet people who'll then expect you to organise a performance of "The Tales of Beatrix Potter" or bury a relative or something. If you play with a train set, I refer you to "Never Answer the Door". Playing with train sets builds resilience.
Shouting "Saints Preserve us" 
OK - this is Postman Pat. But Reverend Timms was always hanging around in the church and churchyard like a Midsomer vicar. And when that palled, he'd go steaming down hills on a bike with no brakes shouting "Saints preserve us!" Don't be like Timms. Stay away from the church on weekdays. And keep off your bike. 

Just follow the examples. You will be truly resilient. You will have time to spare, and have reduced your "vicar stereotype" quotient. And then, if you're lucky, you can be an Archdeacon. And then you really will have to work hard.

Sunday 5 June 2022

A Tale of Two Beach Huts

As the man said, before he became your annoying uncle you avoid apart from at Christmas when he tells you we should be weighing raspberries in that ancient English measure the drupe: stop me if you've heard this one before.

There were two beach huts. And one was immaculately painted and presented. For minimum of labour, it had a lawn in artificial turf. And a little decorative area of crushed slate. And summer, autumn, winter and spring it was always the same. Predictable. Low maintenance. Tidy. You knew where you were with that beach hut.

And the hut next to it was a very different proposition. Now it's possible there had been some sadness. Maybe the hut's owner was unwell. Or had died. Or it was the subject of some massive divorce dispute, to be argued about alongside who got to keep the Afghan hounds. Or maybe the owner just didn't care. But there it was, unmaintained for, I would guess, five years.

But it was in a terrible state. The paint was peeling. The fence was un-tanalised. It faced the Atlantic storms and it absorbed them all.

And the garden. What a garden. There may once have been a lawn. But it had grown wild. There were weeds halfway to the height of the hut. Feral, West Country weeds, raised on salt winds and a thousand setting suns. An affront to lovers of the Qualcast Concorde, and a challenge to the mightiest of strimmers.

And I guess in the summer the resident or residents of the looked-after summer house would sit on deck chairs on the immaculate green plastic of the turf, with their canned gin and tonic, and look out to sea and reflect on the beauty of a Somerset sunset.

And I expect they'd come down in the autumn and sit there in the beach hut with the door safely shut, drinking their exactly-measured tea out of their bran-new tartan vacuum flasks, and respect the might of the wild Atlantic as it crashed upon the rocks in a moderate breeze.

And I wonder if they kept their eyes firmly fixed to the north-west, so as not to see what new species of nettle had taken root in the patch in front of the beach hut next door.

But I hope, now and then, on a summer's day, they'd enjoy the sight of a butterfly. As it flitted across from the garden on their left. Maybe said to themselves, isn't it great when we don't try and bring everything totally under control. Before going home to buy some wasp and ant spray. Ready for next time they came.

Saturday 4 June 2022

Beacon Work it Out

 The Beaker Folk are getting increasingly grumpy about the delayed lighting of the Jubilee Beacon.

Well, I'm sorry. The problem is - it's a very high beacon. And we need the cherry-picker to light it.

But the cherry-picker got stuck in the highest position during the Ascension Day service. So we can't use it to light the beacon until we've got it repaired. It's really frustrating.

Also - Burton Dasset is still up in the cherry-picker. It's been 9 days. And he's starting to whimper.

Not sure whether it's the cold, the wet, the long wait, or the way we're keeping him fed by throwing cans of shandy and doughnuts at him. 

Anyway, please have some patience. I'm getting very stressed here.