REPORT ON A VISIT TO ST. ICHABODS-DOWN-THE-HILL. 29.4.01
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
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 ‘.....so 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
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!
© The Estate of William John Green, 2004