Past or future

Oct 12th, 2006 | By | Category: Cross Channel

Preparing for Sunday’s worship which will include some “alternativeâ€? elements, I had pangs of conscience, until I remembered an experience three years ago.

I had got up at 7.15 in order to go to church. The rest of the house was fast asleep and I crept around the house. In an old English house it is hard to creep, every floorboard creaked as I went down the stairs. I was sure I must have made enough noise to waken everyone by the time I went out of the door at ten to eight to walk the hundred yards at the village church.

You had to have the sort of mind that would do well on TV quiz programmes like ‘Countdown’ in order to understand the noticeboard at the church gate. The service was at a different time every Sunday and the time of the service was determined by which Sunday of the month it might be, except on months when there were five Sundays, when the time and venue of the service would be advertised on a noticeboard inside the church.

A man who might have passed as a retired headmaster greeted me at the door. He handed me a book and said, ‘we’re up in the choir this morning’. Dressed in a short sleeved summer shirt and cream cotton trousers and wearing shoes but no socks (I was still in French mode), I didn’t look like a typical Church of England member, but I wasn’t offered any more advice. I went up to the choir stalls and sat beside two older ladies who offered me no greeting but continued their conversation which seemed chiefly to centre on the price of hotel rooms in Folkestone and how both of them enjoyed the spaciousness of their double beds since the demise of their respective husbands. One lady was anxious lest her offer to the hotel to pay a single room supplement might mean she would be put into a room with a single bed. (I wondered if this is the sort of conversation that normally takes place in church pews).

The clergyman came out of the vestry at 8 o’clock precisely. The congregation for the only service in the village that day numbered nine. There was one young couple, but the reason for their presence became clear when the clergyman began to read the banns for their marriage. He commented to the young lady that she came from a very nice part of the Isle of Wight and that he had been there himself once and had almost missed the ferry. He then launched straight into the Communion service. There were no page numbers given and no attempt to announce what was happening next. It had been at least twenty years since I had attended a service from the Book of Common Prayer as used by the Church of England and I found myself fumbling through the pages.

By the end of the service I was almost relieved to go. Apart from the clergyman at the door, no-one spoke to me.

Given the choice between pangs of conscience and the dead hand of tradition – the choice seems simple.

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