St Ichabod's
Black Country Stories
Caelum Animalis
The Can Opener
Chewing Gum
Chorister's Alphabet
David and Goliath
Euro English
Feline Sedentation
Happy Marriage
Hell's Bells
The Gardener
The Icon
A Plan for the Church
St Ichabod's




About three weeks previously I had been asked by the Rector if I could possibly ‘do’ the 9.30.a.m. Eucharist. He gave no reason for this, a breach of courtesy in my book, even if he was just skiving, but I agreed to officiate.

I arrived at the Church at about 9.a.m. and found that the door was locked. I sat on a tombstone for about five minutes when a car drew up and there emerged from it a lady with a large handbag. She greeted me perfunctorily without introducing herself. I felt that she had but lately risen from slumber, and only later inferred that she was, in fact, a Churchwarden. (It is one of the burdens of the clergy that laypeople whom they have met once across the Altar rail will expect their names to be known and remembered seculae seculorum.)

Having established this cosy relationship, the lady proceeded to search her handbag, meanwhile muttering about ‘ many keys - I don't know which bunch - is it these ? - No. Perhaps it’s these .....etc. etc.’

She proceeded to try several keys, some of them being, I would have thought, obviously unsuitable. I remarked that I had once been attached to the Prison Service, and might be able to help. The irony was lost on her, but eventually a protracted period of trial and error achieved the desired result and we entered the Church.

The Vestry was locked, as was the steel cupboard inside it, so I was anticipating further problems. However, the stand-in sidesman then arrived and was able to identify the required keys from the various bunches. The lady then announced her intention of fetching her mother-in-law and dashed off, promising to return.

Having provided access, the sidesman asked me whether he should put on the heating. As the temperature inside was no more than 50F, the affirmative seemed to be an obvious answer. He then disappeared into the body of the Church, leaving me to arrange the altar furnishings.

I discovered a Chalice and Ciborium, neither of which appeared to have been cleaned since Easter - or possibly Christmas. However, the wafer box, was neatly filled, and I found a bottle of Bristol Cream. There was no water available, but having been to this church once before, I had provided my own, together with a lavabo dish and towel. The Priest’s wafers were eventually discovered in an old biscuit tin. Purificators were there, but no Corporal. The Chalice Veil and Burse were probably given by Lady Thingey in celebration of the Jubilee of the Dear Queen in 1897, since when they had received but scant attention.

I carted all this stuff up to the sanctuary, to find that the Altar had no linen cloths, just the bare board with two candles, a central table mat of doubtful provenance, and a sort of DIY book rest.

Meanwhile the sidesman had lit the two altar candles - after being supplied with matches by me - and had put on the overhead electric heating. He was now struggling to light a few portable butane heaters. He had forgotten to light the Paschal Candle (It was still Easter 3). The congregation had begun to arrive and were being handed folders containing a service order. This was the first time I had seen this and a quick glance showed that it was someone’s selection from the various permutations of ‘Common Worship’. It was now 9.26.a.m. and counting.......

By this time the lady organist had arrived. She had telephoned during the previous week to ask which hymns I would like. These I had given to her and she had expressed her acquiescence. They were:

“Ye servants of God: The Lord is risen indeed: Christ the Lord is risen again: Come, ye faithful, raise the anthem.” These, I had assumed from experience and from her earlier acquiescence, would give no problems. However, with three minutes to blast off she informed me that she would have to change the tune of one of them as “I don’t think they will know it.” Being aware that this can mean “I can’t play anything with more than two flats”, I let it go.

I started proceedings by greeting the congregation, followed with an explanation that I had only seen their order of service for the first time five minutes ago, and this, coupled with the fact that I had yet to get my new reading glasses after two cataract operations, was probably a recipe for chaos, which I would do my best to avoid.. After that I felt that they would be “with me” in any ensuing unusual events.

All went well until the Gloria, apart from the fact that the ‘Confession’ omitted any indication of penitence. At the Gloria, which I had expected from previous experience to be ‘said’, I was startled by a blast from the organ. This, I found was a ‘note’ given to me to start a sung version. After pointing out to the organist that I had neither foreknowledge nor music relevant to the setting she was about to play, and that she couldn’t hear the congregation if she did, we agreed to say the Gloria.

The first reading was from the Book of the Revelation, announced as such by the sidesman. (I have encountered readers who obviously think that there are Corinthians, Galatians and Revelations amongst the nationalities of early Christians.)

He read very well, with spirit, clarity and understanding, having previously told me that he intended to change reference to ‘The Lamb that was slaughtered’ in the version he had been given, to ‘The Lamb that was slain’. This I applauded. Perhaps the next translation idiocy will be ‘The Lamb that was culled’.

The rest of the service was without incident - at least none that I was aware of. The congregation consisted of fifteen souls, the average age being between 65 and three-score-and-ten - or maybe a bit more. Whatever the tune, the singing appeared to be non-existent apart from solo efforts on my part. At the offertory, when I was otherwise engaged, the hymn seemed to be an organ solo repeated as many times as there were verses.

Finally, at the door, someone congratulated me on ‘getting through it’. Some said the usual about it being a ‘nice service’, and one gentleman had something to say about ‘them continually mucking about with the services,- we don’t know where we are.’

The sidesman said, “Come back as often as you like!”

Having collected all my bits and pieces, signed the book, and also entered therein the collection of £10, I went home to coffee. I was offered no fee nor expenses, but as it was the same the last time I went to St. Ichabods, I was not surprised.

That evening, I received a phone call from a man in Winchester, enquiring about the ‘Vicar’. His 90-year-old mother is a parishioner of St. Ichabod’s. Someone had told her that the Vicar had had a heart attack and was seriously ill. As one does not usually arrange a locum three weeks ahead of a heart attack, I phoned St. Ichabod’s Rectory to learn the worst. The phone was answered by a very cheerful Rector, amused at our concern for him, who told me that he had had a day off to go fishing!

W.J.G. 30.4.01

© The Estate of William John Green, 2004