If one is to be a vicar in the Church of England, then one should do more than hang around wearing a dress and a dog-collar. One should do some vicaring. This means getting out and seeing people – everyone, not just church members. You must understand their needs and support them in their lives.
I have much to occupy me at present. There’s a new church to be built, the weekly soup kitchen to run, my marriage to arrange, various church meetings to attend, a secret cult to destroy… With so much happening, it is important to remember the primary job of a vicar is to be a vicar.
So, I made my weekly tour of the shops in Sutley. I do not let my housekeeper do the shopping; instead, she provides a shopping list. I buy a few items from this shop, a few from that one. On my way around, I will stop for a coffee or two. Each place that I visit, I will talk to the staff, or the other people waiting in the queue. I will get to know them a little, making notes later if I need. It raises the profile of the church, of course, but it also means if they need help, then they aren’t dealing with a stranger. It is also true that I am more likely to find out if someone is in need, or in hospital. People talk – usually rubbish, it’s true – but it is the job of a vicar to listen.
Touring Sutley took the whole morning with a late lunch. After lunch, I had an appointment with Violet Johnson. She’s in her late seventies, widowed, and a regular attendee. She also believes there’s fairies at the bottom of her garden and is exceptionally gullible.
She opened the door to me, and said, “Oh, David, I’m so glad you’re here. It’s tragic, positively tragic.”
Seeing that she was clearly distressed, I adopted a sombre expression, and entered the house.
“What is it?” I asked. “How can I help?”
“I need you to take a funeral.”
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t know,” I said, wondering if I’d slipped up. “Who is it?”
“He’s through here,” Violet said, leading me through to her dining room.
On the table were several pieces of broken plate, with a candle lit next to them.
The tears flowed as she continued, “I’d only had him three months. I bought him in a sale from Marks and Sparks in Musdon. It was so silly – I had just washed him, and somehow caught him on the tap. The next thing I knew, he’d slipped out my hands and was on the floor in pieces.”
Vicars are occasionally asked to take funerals for pets. Although it isn’t officially covered by the Church of England, I haven’t heard of anyone trying to stop it. Yet there is a difference between a dog and a plate. In short, I wasn’t going to bury a plate for Violet.
“Ah, Violet,” I said, “While I am sorry for your loss, I believe you may have misunderstood the spiritual requirements of ceramics.”
“I have?” she asked, the tears drying.
“What is appropriate for a human is not always appropriate for crockery and can even be wrong. The reverent committal of a plate requires that it be used in the bottom of a plant pot, to ensure good drainage.”
Gradually, Violet’s face relaxed, and soon she was wishing me goodbye.
My next appointment was with Jill Baildom, the church organist. Like many church organists, she is a pianist doing her best on a 19th century monster of pipes, pumps, and pedals – or was, until the church burnt down. Now she is playing the piano – equally slowly - at the local school where we transferred our services. She also recently broke both wrists, which is very annoying.
“How are you today?” I asked as I used her kitchen to make the tea.
“Mustn’t complain, David, mustn’t complain. There’s a girl comes in twice a day to make sure I get proper meals.”
“Ah, the Home from Hospital people?”
“Oh yes. And Occupational Therapy are fitting all kinds of aids to get me going again.”
“That’s really good, but if there is anything else you need, then you must let me know.”
“I will, I will. It’s the music at church that bothers me more than anything. I feel like I’m letting everyone down.”
“What we’re all more concerned about is your recovery.”
This was true. Organists are like gold dust, and if her wrists didn’t mend, I’d be downloading music from the Diocesan approved website to accompany the hymns indefinitely.
“Oh, I know what you’re saying makes sense, David,” she said, “But sometimes there’s one of those big old hymns, and it makes me want to cry hearing it on that itty-bitty Hi-Fi you have to use.”
We went in circles a few more times, but after some more reassurances, I left.
And there you have it – some basic vicaring. It’s not complicated, just talking and listening. Some vicars concentrate only on the churchgoers, and they could not be more wrong. If you help someone who doesn’t go to church, then they probably won’t turn up at next Sunday’s service – but if you don’t help, you’ll never see them again.
It may seem strange that a sociopath like myself should spend time helping people, but one day, I shall be Archbishop of Canterbury. Demonstrating a solid pastoral performance is one of the tick-boxes along the way.
That evening, I had a phone call from Rev. Martin Dawson. He was a member of the Sons of Jesus Lemurian, the soon-to-be-destroyed secret society. I had just given him a faked book of “secret wisdom”.
“Ah, David,” he said, “I was wondering if you could give me an opinion.”
“Regarding the document you provided – do you think that it would use metric or Imperial measurements?”
“As I recall, the metric system dates from France around 1790. Imperial measurements are largely inherited from the Romans, who in turn were influenced by survivors of Atlantis that found their way into the Mediterranean Basin. Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that the Atlanteans originated from Lemuria.”
“Ah, Imperial measurements then. Thought so.”
Dawson hung up. On available evidence, I was surprised he had the intelligence to use a phone. Still, he must have been working pretty hard to get far enough to wonder about measurements.
I didn’t hear anything from Rev. Graham Walters that week. He was the recipient another book of “secret wisdom” I had produced. It was subtly different to the copy that Dawson had, the intention being to create a schism in their secret society.
Sunday came. John Harden, who normally does meet-and-greet at the door was away visiting family, so I asked Al to step in. He agreed, and I got on with getting things set up - making sure the bread and wine was ready, checking the hymn numbers, things like that.
A few minutes before the service, Al walked up and said, “Got a moment, David?”
“Yes, what is it?”
“Got some bloke causing trouble at the door.”
I paused, turned around, and asked, “Really?”
“Yeah. Keeps asking to come in. I hold the door for him, and then he asks again. Thought I’d better check with you before I hit him.”
As it is best not to hit potential members of the congregation, I went to investigate. I found a tall man, probably in his fifties, wearing a Peter Storm coat. His full head of grey shoulder-length hair was swept back in an eighties style, with the kind of nose people charitably describe as Roman.
Seeing me, he said, “Permission to come aboard.”
Disclaimer:The Rev. David Wilson is apparently happy with the concept of funerals for pets, but is not prepared to perform the same service for crockery. Although probably the result of subconscious processes, this differentiation is an indicator that he should receive further training in this area.