Socks with Sandals!

Dear friends

During this warm weather I am reminded of a question recently posed to me. It was this: “Is wearing socks with open-toed sandals still the summer dress code for Christian men?”

Here was my considered reply.

‘A jolly pertinent question bearing in mind the recent spell of clement weather we have enjoyed in this fair isle but one that will certainly hit a raw nerve as far as my good lady wife is concerned.

Whilst I endeavour to be ‘cutting edge’ in certain matters (we now have an overhead projector at St. Cliff’s added to which I am seriously considering replacing the dial-up facility on my computer with something called broadband) when it comes to my wardrobe I am perhaps not quite as ‘with-it’ as perhaps she would like.

That said, it is not for the want of trying.

Once, in a bid to be all things to all people I adorned my personage with one of the ubiquitous W.W.J.D. bracelets in an attempt to endear myself to the youth of St.Cliff’s.
My downfall was assuming it to be some sort of rubbery (and stretchy) trendy clerical collar and only after all but choking myself to an inch of my life was I duly enlightened as to its intended location on the human form.

Thus you will not need to be Sherlock Holmes to conclude that fashion sense and this humble clergyman are not particularly well acquainted.
It will come as no surprise also to discover that the raw nerve I mentioned at the outset is none other than the fashion crime alluded to in the question.
In my defence, if it were not for the painful pedal affliction of bunions I would be more than prepared to consider forsaking the comfort of wearing ankle socks with my summer sandals if it lessened my good lady wife’s embarrassment at my choice of seasonal attire.

That it is a condition which St.Cliff’s prayer ministry team has yet to crack leaves me with little choice once again as to my summer footwear options.

I trust that my answer (whilst no doubt offering little solace to those who would prefer such iconic Christian stereotyping to be cast into a certain fiery lake) is of some help.’

Onward and upward

Derek

 

‘Action Songs!’

Dear friends

A member of my ‘online congregation’ has asked me the following question.

“Why does the vicar make us all do the actions to children’s songs?”

This is indeed a very good question and assuredly one which resonates with this self-conscious clergyman.

Not being of a particularly extrovert disposition, those dreaded words ‘audience participation’ are guaranteed to send a shiver down this ‘buttoned-up’ clergyman’s spine.

As an aside, it is one reason why our fated sojourn to the Estuary View Holiday Village remains irreversibly etched in my memory banks. In that the nightly entertainment which the staff of this latter-day Colditz saw fit to inflict upon the inmates required our active involvement, simply compounded the torture of this ‘holiday from hell’ (as I believe my good lady wife termed it).

Back to the question.

Whilst not subscribing to the adage that ‘children should be seen and not heard’ I nevertheless have good reason for not inflicting grown ups (such as myself) with ministry methods designed for younger folk.

I will admit to having made a brief foray into the world of the aforementioned ‘action song’ on the occasion of St. Cliff’s Sunday school anniversary, but a pending personal injury claim resulting from my over-exuberant platform demonstration has put paid to a repeat performance.

I had always considered ‘Wide, wide as the ocean’ to be a harmless ditty from the back catalogue of Sunday school classics but I fear that any fond memories or affection I had for this chorus have been blighted forevermore.

Of course I have only myself to blame for standing too close to Mrs Higginbottom (St. Cliff’s discordant and none-too-melodious organist) as I flung my arms wide with as much gusto as I could muster.

The ensuing black eye which I inflicted upon the poor lady (and the impending litigation) was not part of the plan.

It is for these reasons that I have decided to pen a ‘chorus’ of my own in the hope that adults will never again have to partake in ‘action songs’.

Although it is unlikely that such ‘top drawer’ writers of hymns as Wesley and Newton will be turning in their graves for fear of being usurped by my humble proffering I am nonetheless quietly confident that ‘A statue for the Lord’ (as I have provisionally entitled the song) will one day be added to the chorus compendium.

As I stand in solidarity with all who each Sunday breathe a sigh of relief when those immortal words ‘It is time for the children to leave us’ are uttered (and the looming threat of ‘action song’ participation is lifted for yet another week) let my song be something around which we can all rally.

I’m a statue for the Lord.

I’m a statue for the Lord.

I’m standing still,

In God’s will,

I’m a statue for the Lord.

Onward and upward

Derek

‘The right hand of fellowship!’

Dear Friends

We have much to be grateful for at St Cliff’s, not least that our much-publicised summer fete should have passed by with few of the traumas of last year’s embarrassing debacle.

I sometimes feel that there are those among us who would readily replace the colourful (though perhaps a tad dated) embroidered ‘Welcome’ banner which adorns St Cliff’s porch with the harsher tones of a ‘Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted!’ sign. My suspicions were proven to be well-founded when a visitor to our traditional summer extravaganza made the mistake of finding themselves first in line at the legendary cake stall.

What the unfortunate lady was not privy to was that the matriarchs of St Cliff’s considered it a privilege of rank (assumed by their longevity within the church) to have ‘first pickings’ of the the sumptuous display of calorie-laden pastries and cakes.

That the visitor in question had a sweet tooth (at least that is what I concluded from a brief glimpse of her filling-encrusted choppers) did nothing to help matters and in fact, when presented with the opportunity to remove herself from the vicinity until the aforementioned matriarchs had secured the ‘cream of the crop’ she simply crossed her arms, cocked her head and dared her adversaries to “try and make me”.

It is thanks to the foresight of our somewhat overly safety-conscious administrator Mr Merryview that each year we are blessed by the attendance of the good folk of St John’s Ambulance who are on hand to offer succour and balm to the afflicted. On this particular occasion their life-giving ministrations were required to attend to the blackened eye of this ‘cake stall interloper’ (as some would have it) who had subsequently been offered the right hand of fellowship (albeit in clenched form) by the ring leader of the offended matriarchal mob.

That the photographer from our local paper should at that moment be preoccupied with snapping the bishop as he bungy jumped from the bell tower is a blessing indeed.

Onward and upward

Derek

‘More haste…!’

Dear Friends

Though I do say so myself our fish suppers at St Cliff’s take some beating (or should I say ‘battering’?) and what a joy it was when twenty souls with a penchant for Britain’s finest fare should grace us with their presence on the occasion of this week’s ever-popular Food ‘n’ Fellowship evening.

What I did not realise that was that our regular purveyors of fish and chips were unable to fulfil their monthly order (an ‘off’ jumbo sausage having unfortunately contaminated their prized batter) and that St Cliff’s Catering Committee therefore had little choice but to make an executive decision and to give our considerable business to their only rivals in the town.

That until now we have boycotted the somewhat inappropriately named, ‘The Piece of Cod’ will not surprise you but on this occasion it was a case of any port in a storm and expediency won the day.

The warmth of the evening necessitated the opening of windows which made the surreptitious disposal of the less-than-satisfactory fish suppers all too easy for our guests.

It was not until the next day that I discovered that the grounds of St Cliff’s were not only littered with numerous half-eaten cod portions but also an equal quantity of salivating cats.

I now think that I was perhaps a little hasty in purchasing something which I thought would ‘do the job’ of ridding the church’s hallowed precincts of this unexpected feline plague (not having the services of Moses to hand).

It would appear that I misunderstood the nature of the product and having sprinkled it liberally around the confines of St Cliff’s I was rather troubled to discover that the invasion of cats had significantly increased in number and not diminished as I had hoped.

I now find that ‘Go-Cat’ is in fact a food product and not something to send the pesky creatures packing.

Onward and upward

Derek

‘Let it snow!’

Dear friends

You may recall the unseemly local inter-denominational fracas that occurred a couple of Christmases back when it was every clergyman for himself in a bid to cream off the Christmas carol service trade.

You may also remember the desperate attempts by one particular ecclesiastical establishment who went so far as to employ the services of a certain Mr Cone (the local ice cream vendor who understandably has a rather lean time of it during the winter season) to announce over his speaker system (in strict rotation with his theme tune of Popeye the Sailor Man) which was the best church in town!

Having had a dressing down from the bishop for not being more ‘pushy’ when it came to promoting St Cliff’s festive offerings I hit upon what I considered a sure-fire way to pull in the punters this year and thus appease his ire.

In the process of my annual excursion into the musty manse loft to unearth our Christmas decorations I chanced upon a video marked ‘The Snowman’.

In no time at all the aforementioned popular animated production was whirring away in our trusty VHS player (my meagre stipend not being able to quite stretch to a DVD ‘upgrade’).

I will admit that the quality of the video left more than a little to be desired (it having being recorded by my good self from a Christmas televisual screening many moons ago).

I was a little unsure whether the unremitting (and somewhat irritating) snow effect overlaying the production was in fact intentional or simply the result of the video’s antiquity. That aside, it proved serendipitous, it being the catalyst for my veritable brainwave.

Unbeknownst to my fellow ministers in the town, a rather well-known female opera singer had moved into this fair parish of late and was offering her services (for free) as a way of getting getting to know the locals (and no doubt offloading a few more copies of her latest CD).

What a feather in my proverbial cap it would be if I could bag the diva in question to perform a rendition of the ‘chart-topping’ theme song to the The Snowman (the original performer’s voice no doubt having dropped a couple of octaves in the interim) as the finale to ‘Carols at St Cliff’s’.

To cut a long story short, I not only managed to secure the lady’s vocal services but on her arrival at St Cliff’s it appeared that she had ‘gone the extra mile’ and given herself a rather festive snow-covered look to get herself into the part (as I understand is the wont of theatrical types).

Amid the assembled throng of folk arriving for our festive soiree I loudly congratulated our guest soloist on being such a sport and gamely going for the snow effect on her hair and shoulders.

If I had but known that the copious white dusting that adorned her upper body owed nothing whatsoever to theatrical effect and everything to an unfortunate case of dandruff (a condition I now discover that she was rather sensitive about) I would have held my tongue.

That I did not is to be forever rued.

As the affronted singer turned on her heels and headed for the exit I clutched at straws and offered her the olive branch of a one-on-one session with a member of our prayer ministry team in the hope of perhaps resolving this unfortunate malady, but thus to no avail.

It was not without irony that at that particular moment the film’s final poignant image of the snowman melting into obscurity popped into my head.

How I wished, at that particular moment, that this had been in my gift also.

I fear that for the next twelve months, with regard to the bishop, I will not so much be ‘walking in the air’ (to quote the lyrics of the theme song to this now-tarnished production) but rather, walking on egg shells.

Let us hope and pray that the coming year does not begin as badly this one has ended.

Onward and upward

Derek

‘Oh Mother!’

Dear Friends

Mother’s Day fast approaches and I find that my sermon preparation for this annual fixture on the ecclesiastical calendar is laced with more than a little anxiety and much floor pacing.

That this day-long celebration of all things maternal should cast such a long shadow over my normally sanguine demeanour will no doubt surprise you. Should not a man of the cloth such as myself exist in a perpetual state of being ‘on top of the world’ to quote that catchy ditty by those paragons of popular music, The Carpenters (who, I gather, no longer grace the popular hit parade as much as one would like)?

In an ideal world the answer to such searching a question would indeed be a hearty affirmative except for the fact that on this occasion (and on too many other, I confess) I appear to fall foul of sound judgement and simply cannot seem to help myself in slipping into a default mode of, as the saying would have it, ‘putting my foot in it’.

My impending state of gloom and foreboding in respect of the looming spectre of this year’s Mothering Sunday is due in its entirety to my well-intentioned but ill-judged (with hindsight) attempt to capitalise on the reknown of that most famous of mums; Mary the (birth) mother of Jesus on the occasion of last year’s celebration of motherhood.

Had I had the good sense to but enlighten that veritable fount of wisdom, my good lady wife, as to my plans then the crisis that was wrought would probably been averted. In that I didn’t see fit to share my inspired sermon illustration with her prior to its disastrous launch is a decision to be forever rued.

I had cleverly (or so I thought) hit upon the idea of asking the children, on that fated day, to remain (or perhaps more accurately, to be restrained) in the service for an additional five minutes whilst I recounted the story of when Jesus asked his good friend John to look after his dear mother from that day hence.

And how better to bring this poignant scene to life than by myself taking the role of Jesus himself and employing the services of two of St Cliff’s regulars to play the parts of Mary and John. What could possibly go wrong?

As the service proceeded I had what can only described as an epiphany, though please don’t tell the bishop, he is a stickler for keeping to the aforementioned church calendar and any such mention of a juxtaposition of epiphany (the festival or otherwise) and Mothering Sunday could be enough to bring about a recurrence of his nervous tick.

(It was this unfortunate ailment that put on hold his attendance at the local auction rooms when one too many twitches of his head unwittingly purchased him job lots of house clearance paraphernalia and which also emptied his bank account in the process.)

Placed as if by some divine appointment on the front pew, beneath my very eyes, was none other than parish’s most fearsome of octogenarians, Mrs (Mary) Pilkington-Smythe and beside her, oblivious to the imminent trauma that was about to be visited upon him, Jonathan Biggins, about the most timid five year old you could ever expect to meet.

It is my heartfelt suspicion that Mrs Pilkington-Smythe was the inspiration for Roald Dahl’s terrifying Miss Trunchbull character which only compounds my dreadful decision to enlist this real life Mary and John into my biblical re-enactment.

My next precipitous move down this slippery slope was to quote Jesus’ very own words “Dear woman, here is your son” with as much Shakespearean gravitas as I could muster.

To everyone’s surprise Mrs Pilkington-Smythe promptly rose to her feet and embraced the quivering lad as a man-eating octopus might (if there is such fanciful creature) enclose its prey.

The alarm bells ringing in my head should have stopped me in my tracks and caused me to do some sort of audit of the repercussions of this enactment.

I did not. I was enjoying my moment in all its thespian glory.

“Son”, I continued in full Gielgudian flow “here is your mother”.

One can only but imagine that the terrified child thought that he had been put up for adoption with the ancient battleaxe and which is why to this day St Cliff’s, as gesture of remorse (chiefly on my part), is funding his weekly trauma counselling sessions.

Let us hope (and pray) that this Mother’s Day is less dramatic, in every sense.

Onward and upward

Derek

Spring has sprung (well, almost)!

Dear friends,

Not before time am I preparing to bid a none-too-fond farewell to the last vestiges of winter. Spring is most definitely in the air at St Cliff’s which, to tell the truth, is not the only thing.

It would certainly not even have required the services of a nasally enhanced bloodhound to have detected the disturbing aroma that has recently graced this hallowed building.

I was reliably informed that Mrs Bidmarsh and her cleaning ladies had given the pews the ‘once over’ with Mr Sheen or some such branded wood reviving agent in their usually quick-off-the-mark spring clean (it still being only January at present) but, as I suspected, what they intended to use and what they actually ended up coating our ecclesiastical leg rests with were not one and the same thing.

It was noticeable, last Sunday morning, that the usual high speed evacuation of St. Cliff’s sanctuary which typically proceeds my ‘that’s all folks’ benediction appeared to have been supernaturally put on hold as the entire congregation remained firmly seated as if secured to the pews by some unseen hand.

This perceptive diagnosis of mine was not as far off the mark as you might have imagined, when to everyone’s surprise (but my own who am well aware of the composite nature of the St. Cliff’s Cleaning Committee; they being either 100% dotty, blind as a bat or a frightening combination of both), that in fact the services of one Mr Sheen had never been employed in this comparatively simple task but rather one Mr SprayFix (patent pending), no less who, whilst displaying himself within the confines of (one has to in all fairness admit), a similarly shaped and coloured receptacle, did not confer upon our oaken heirlooms the hoped for result.

The next ten minutes were spent persuading Mr Potts, our duty deacon who had had the good fortune not to have been sitting down but instead standing at the back of the church (minding the entrance door against the unlikely sudden invasion from gatecrashers, the local criminal underworld or worse, in his doctrinally prejudiced book, charismatics), to put to one side his entrenched opinions on Sunday trading and to pop down the road to Fags and Mags forthwith to procure on behalf of the firmly fixed faithful, a dozen tins of lighter fuel which, when applied would hopefully guarantee their freedom.

The departure of Mr Potts was only finally secured and his conscience temporarily salved by reminding him that even Jesus sometimes ‘broke the rules’ on the Sabbath.

My conscience, on the other hand, still weighs rather heavy having found it necessary to dip into the offering plate to fund this initiative.

Onward and upward.

Derek

 

‘Across the pond!’

Dear Friends

It has often been an accusation thrust my way that I have a tendency to be a little naive when it comes to the ways of the world.

This tenet was proved true only the other day when my good lady wife, having without doubt taken the liberty to examine my healthy (and ever-increasing) list of companions on the Facebook internet portal, pointed out that I appeared to have attracted a considerable number of friends from across the pond.

Not being completely au fait with modern parlance I assumed that she was referring to the residents of Twilight Villas, the retirement home which stands imposingly at the opposite side of the stagnant and lifeless pool of water at the centre of our village.

I could not quite believe my good fortune that having traversed the ‘world wide super highway’ in pursuit of what I gather are known as ‘cyber’ friendships, lo and behold, I had those from among this number who were residing within my own fair parish, but a stone’s throw from the manse.

Such was my excitement at this epiphany that, although it was late in the evening, I sallied forth immediately to make myself known to them.

Feeling that this joyous occasion did not merit my usual my British reserve I knocked on the front door with such gusto you could have been forgiven for thinking that I was intending to break into the property forcibly.

In a matter of moments heads popped out of windows.

I do not know quite what came over me next, (put it down to my temporary exuberance) but throwing caution to the wind I blurted out loudly that if they opened the front door I had a treat in store for them, meaning our connection on the Facebook portal of course.

What I was unaware of was that the frail and timid folk at Twilight Villas had recently been warned not to open their door to strangers on the occasion of the looming Halloween festivities. This would not have been a problem had not one of their number been a little heavy-handed in turning over the pages of their communal calendar and thus unfortunately skipping over two full weeks. I say unfortunate because as far as the elderly residents were concerned the night I had chosen to call round, unannounced, was indeed the fated 31st of October, that night of unwanted and oft ghoulish visitors.

It was only when two gentlemen from the local constabulary arrived to ask for an explanation of my anti-social behaviour and why I had been intimidating the folk from the old people’s home that it began to dawn on me that perhaps there had been a crossed wire or two along the way.

That I had chosen to wear my black cape as a guard against the chill night air only increased the suspicions of these officers of the law that I was garbed as that fanged gentleman of cinematic fame and not as a man of the cloth as I repeatedly (and unsuccessfully) tried to persuade them.

Having returned to the manse under the cloud of their somewhat threat-laden warning that they “would be keeping an eye on me” I then discovered from my wife that I had got the wrong end of the proverbial stick (as usual) and that she was in fact referring to folk from the United States of America.

Whilst I do offer a heartfelt welcome to our distant cousins it is probably best that I restrict any future communication with your good selves to the medium of the internet.

I have had my fill of pastoral visits to my ‘online congregation’ for quite some time.

Onward and upward

Derek

‘Ghoul hash!’

Dear Friends

It would appear that I am at present suffering from a decidedly irritating condition affecting my feet that even the most eminent of chiropodists would find themselves stretched to the limits of their capabilities attempting to remedy. It is this. Whenever a situation presents itself through which I might achieve some brief moment of glory,  as surely as night follows day, I can be guaranteed to ‘put my foot in it’.

The opportunity to present a creative alternative to Halloween was uppermost in the minds of St Cliff’s Evangelism Committee when they proposed the tenuously titled ‘Hallo-lujah-een Party’ not only in a thinly veiled attempt to keep all potential trick and treating pranksters and egg throwers within the confines of the building (and not outside like last year where they ‘omeletted’ the front porch with enough eggs to give a vex a vegan). This situation was exacerbated by the surprisingly unseasonable tropical heat wave that visited the parish the very next morning and gave new meaning to the expression ‘high church’.

The lure of copious supplies of free food and Marvo – ‘it’s not magic, it’s just an illusion’ – the Christian conjuror did the trick, so to speak, and there probably wasn’t a home in the locale which wasn’t devoid of offspring for that particular evening.

I can only put what happened next down to the frivolous party atmosphere that filled St Cliff’s and, with all things going smoothly, I mischievously took my leave to play a prank on Mrs Willoughby who was, or so I thought, engaged in her weekly clean of the crypt.

Donning a somewhat ghoulish mask that I had confiscated from young Jason Potter who had planned to appear as a deformed shepherd in last year’s nativity, I hid behind a tombstone and prepared to pounce.

I did not have long to wait.

Footsteps on the stony floor were my signal, and with much ghostly relish I leapt to my feet with a wail that would have caused the infamous Hound of the Baskervilles to turn on its tail.

If only it had been a dog that I had nearly frightened the socks off, or even Mrs Willoughby.

Sadly it was neither.

Had I but even the faintest inkling that the verger would take it upon himself to give the assembled children a whirlwind tour of St Cliff’s while Marvo went to look for his missing white rabbit then I would have pulled the plug on my ghoulish enterprise poste haste.

This was not to be and I now fear that I will have to use our forthcoming Reconciliation Service to try to make my own peace with the parents of these traumatised youngsters.

Onward and upward

Derek

‘Our cup runneth over!’

Dear Friends

Our cup at St Cliff’s verily runneth over. What saintly task have we performed to have had bestowed upon us such an unwarranted blessing as this?

It is not every day that a celebrity will venture off the beaten track to somewhere like St Cliff’s and thus the imminent arrival of one Sir Cliff Richard, no less, to pair up with the bishop’s wife in the Annual Roof Fund Tennis Tournament has, it must be said, caused quite a stir.

I confess to not being ‘with it’ when it comes to popular music preferring the resonant tones of Mr Roger Whittaker, as a bit of a whistler myself, (much to the annoyance of my dear wife who, not being inclined to encourage my mastery of this most natural of musical instruments, has been known to rather unkindly compare my puckered offerings to the dying chorus of a marsh warbler) and am unsure as to whether today’s young folk are still tapping their toes to Mr Richard’s inspiring melodies.

I will dust off the stylus of my gramophone player and pay an exploratory visit to the local record emporium at the earliest opportunity lest I be accused of being out of touch with popular musical trends.

I have informed Mr Meridew, the groundsman at the Charles Darwin Memorial Recreation Ground (whose name, it must be said, was only tenuously arrived at by it being sited adjacent to the now defunct World of Finches bird outlet), that we wish to pre-book two concurrent sessions of tennis on Court One for the affixed day, recognising that sub-section two in the borough council’s Rules and Regulations For The Booking of Municipal Sports Facilities expressly forbids this.

In that, of all strange co-incidences, Mr Meridew in his youth played the lead in the Piddlingdale District Council Operatic Society’s rendition of Summer Holiday, an amicable resolve has been found to the offending piece of red tape which we have now satisfactorily bypassed.

This is all thanks to the promise of a signed copy of Mr Richard’s chart-topping ‘Devil Woman’ which the bishop’s wife inadvertently purchased at a WI bazaar two years previous. Whereupon realising what she had bought the flustered lady hastily locked it away in her spare room ready to be dealt with by the Diocesan Exorcism Committee the next time they met.

A rather unfortunate incident involving the Reverend Cribbins (the aforementioned committee’s chairman), the Parish Whist Society and a rogue pack of tarot cards (which were mistakenly dealt as playing cards) secured the Exorcism Committee’s prompt demise, preserving the personalised recording from rigorous scrutiny for traces of devilish back-tracking and thus releasing the piece of vinyl in question to be used as a gift to oil the wheels of bureaucracy.

Let us pray that the weather is kind to us when ‘Cliff’ descends upon us and that we are preserved from being overrun with screaming teeny boppers, which I gather are now the order of the day when it comes to popular music celebrities.

Onward and upward

Derek