A Curate’s Egg
Every clergyman is always prepared as to what he will do, if and when a baby appears on the doorstep of his church. However, on the doorstep of St Ewold’s this morning, there was no baby, but instead there lay a single log of turd.
As I stooped to pick it up, I prayed for the poor soul that has been caught so short. I need not relay to these pages (I am, after all, supposed to be prayer-journaling), the exact logistics of how I succeeded in scooping it up. So I then rose, with the discreet intention of flinging my parcel back into a patch of undergrowth deep in the car park of the Rectory Road Tesco Express (or espressi, as my High Church colleague Father Julian would say).
But as I wended my way towards a side lane known only to myself, to loosen myself from my unwanted burden, there came before me a startlingly familiar face. Devin works at the coffee shop adjacent to the local station, and is in my top target percentile for a new imagining of the church in Stoke Newington. We have made passing conversation each time that I have visited his premises, usually involving some jocular remarks about the television show Narcos (a program to which I am, may God forgive me, unfortunately and entirely addicted).
Thus I approached Devin, making sure to smile broadly, but also to offer a greeting commensurate with the dignity of calling. I raised my hands studiously, thus slipping the parcel from my grasp, and so it slithered, down to my shoes, and onto the path. By the time Devin had recognised that it was me, its contents were smeared all over my trainer (white and blue Asics, if truth be told). As I struggled to scrape the waste onto the tarmac, I realised that the evangelical potential of the moment was lost.
I deleted emails containing, among other things, a request to host a Wicca gathering, and also a diatribe from the local British Humanist Association representative (a message of such performative fury that we can only gain something, I believe, from not replying).
The next event in the diary is the deanery chapter meeting. I managed a stolen moment of pleasure in browsing through the J. Crew catalogue before there was a ring on the doorbell. I prayed that it was not Chris, in case we were to besieged by our resident skaghead (is that a Gospel-centred word?). When I opened the door there stood the vast figure of Father Julian dressed in his black cassock, looking like a bloated Liqourice Allsort. It had slipped my mind, but I had agreed to walk with him to the meeting at Holy Trinity church.
En route, Father Julian suffered two shouts of ‘paedo!’ and one instruction to ‘go back to Afghanistan!’ from a delivery driver who mistook the noirish Michelin Man for a lady in a burqa. Yet he also received a solemn bow from a man outside Iceland, and a demand to bless a mobile phone so that ‘my Paddy Power comes in’.
By contrast I received only a brief glance at my still-stained shoes.
The Beauty of Holiness
We arrived at Holy Trinity, the province of Rev. Matt Harper, to find a sign outside, which announced that it was now a ‘Jesus Venue’, and that we were now the witness to GOD³.
Last time at Julian’s, he had insisted on doing an inordinately elaborate Mass for us. Julian had his back to us, but with a click of his fingers he summoned the server, a certain Fernando (who Julian charitably allows to lodge with him), and whispered something to him. As Julian continued chanting, (it was taking a rather long time), Fernando bobbed down the central aisle towards myself and Matt, and said, in clear hearing of the congregation ‘Father says, shut the f*ck up or f*ck the f*ck off!’ (I fear the inclusion of vowels here would stint the cause of the Gospel).
In stark contrast to Julian’s High Mass, this worship time was a forty minute ex tempore prayer – all of us sat in a circle, holding our hands open and saying ‘Lord we just,’ a lot. I know it’s what we’re meant to be doing now, but I always end up messing mine up. Matt got loads of affirming noises from everyone (except Julian), whereas when I took the plunge and prayed out loud, I lost my track and it became about the plight of urban bees (which is important but seemed a little off topic). Matt gently cut me off with a ‘thanks JJ – amen to all that’ and placed his hand on my shoulder.
As soon as the God business was over, it did not take long for the Deanery to comment on Holy Trinity’s re-branding. Dr Punch, who has spent the last fourteen years teaching at Cambridge, pointed out that the name change was almost certainly Tritheism, and if not then definitely Docetism, and that were both to be regarded as heresies.
Matt assured him he would look these up and get back to him. Rev. Hev (as the Reverend Heather Stilgoe styles herself), queried whether having an equation on the sign might exclude people who has struggled with maths at school. Matt said that he knew he could rely on Hev to think of others, which seemed to be the affirmation that she was looking for, so it was left at that.
Back at PWC, I was sent on a four day meditative retreat, to explore how Ignatian spiritual practice might provide positive framework for intra-office relations. Now I discover Julian, Matt and Rev. Hev are to be sent on a ‘mini-MBA’, inclusive of raft building exercise and app-centred evangelism.
The delights of lunch, which was some sort of meat stew, were cut short by a phone call: a sure sign that an elderly person was involved. It was revealed to be on behalf of Enid, a stalwart of the congregation, who claims to have been born during the Blitz (so does every Eastender of a certain age) and to have been friends with the Krays (ditto). The nurse at her home tells me that she's fading fast. I’m not sure that the last rites have a real place in today’s Church of England, but it would have been churlish to turn down the request.
Dust to Dust
As I entered the home, the smell of paracetamol and urine (not a very Gospel-centred phraseology), stung my nostrils as I waded through the lounge. A nurse waved me idly to Enid’s room, and I let myself in to be with her. As I sat there, holding Enid’s crinkly hands, contemplation of life and the universe flew through my mind. Rather puts me, the parish of St Ewold’s, and our attendant espressi into some sort of appropriate order.
Footnote – I have since discovered that Devin added my attempted salvage of my footwear to an Instagram story with the caption #shitshoes, and that it received over 3,500 views. Perhaps he might take over our social media presence?
Illustration by Olga Prader