For seven years in the group of three country parishes, there was a united service on the first Sunday of each month; the venue rotating around the three parishes. It would be the only service of the day and would be demanding of special preparation. Once a quarter, then, it would be in the church of the Parish of Bright, a parish of drumlins and neat little farms. The church sat on high ground overlooking and Dundrum Bay the Mourne mountains to the south.
On the eve of a first Sunday service at Bright, I would drive the mile up the road from the Victorian rectory and busy myself putting things ready for the next morning. There was often no particular reason for doing so, I would still arrive an hour before the service the next day, but there was a sense of being about God’s business in doing very ordinary things. There was a sense of standing in the tradition of George Herbert in the 17th Century.
The Countrey Parson hath a speciall care of his Church, that all things there be decent, and befitting his Name by which it is called. Therefore first he takes order, that all things be in good repair; as walls plaistered, windows glazed, floore paved, seats whole, firm, and uniform, especially that the Pulpit, and Desk, and Communion Table, and Font be as they ought, for those great duties that are performed in them. Secondly, that the Church be swept, and kept cleane without dust, or Cobwebs, and at great festivalls strawed, and stuck with boughs, and perfumed with incense. Thirdly, That there be fit, and proper texts of Scripture every where painted, and that all the painting be grave, and reverend, not with light colours, or foolish anticks. Fourthly, That all the books appointed by Authority be there, and those not torne, or fouled, but whole and clean, and well bound; and that there be a fitting, and sightly Communion Cloth of fine linnen, with an handsome, and seemly Carpet of good and costly Stuffe, or Cloth, and all kept sweet and clean, in a strong and decent chest, with a Chalice, and Cover, and a Stoop, or Flagon; and a Bason for Almes and offerings; besides which, he hath a Poor-mans Box conveniently seated, to receive the charity of well minded people, and to lay up treasure for the sick and needy. And all this he doth, not as out of necessity, or as putting a holiness in the things, but as desiring to keep the middle way between superstition, and slovenlinesse, and as following the Apostles two great and admirable Rules in things of this nature: The first whereof is, Let all things be done decently, and in order: [I Cor. 14:40]The second, Let all things be done to edification, I Cor. 14 [:26]. For these two rules comprize and include the double object of our duty, God, and our neighbour; the first being for the honour of God; the second for the benefit of our neighbor. So that they excellently score out the way, and fully, and exactly contain, even in externall and indifferent things, what course is to be taken; and put them to great shame, who deny the Scripture to be perfect.
Ministry in 21st Century suburban Dublin seems not to have the resonances of Herbert’s southern England, but perhaps the principles are not so dissimilar.
Slipping out of our door on a cold November evening, I crossed the dual carriageway to the church. Never believing in ghosts, I love the church when it is in darkness; the only light coming in through the stained glass from the outside. The lights were needed though.
From the box I had brought, I took the service sheets for tomorrow morning; then pinned up notices of events; then took out the copies of our glossy diocesan magazine. Attempting to leave everything tidy, I went to the front of the church.
There is a new sound system, but one microphone, one left over from the old system, the one used by our junior choir, was not working. After much turning of switches; much plugging and unplugging; much adjustment of levels; much scratching of the head; it still did not work. It would need to be replaced, and there was no prospect of that happening by the morning.
Unlocking the vestry, I knelt to search in the bottom of a cupboard in the hope of finding anything left from the old system. Tucked away at the back, dusty and battered, there was a microphone identical to that which would not work. It could not be worse than what we had. Dusting it off, I connected it to the cable, pushed the switch and my voice boomed around the church.
‘Mr Herbert’, I thought, ‘what would you have been like with PA systems?’
I laughed aloud, delighted at my petty achievement.
There is sometimes an indescribable satisfaction in trivial things.