‘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

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‘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

‘It’s all in the delivery!’

Dear Friends

It is common knowledge, hereabouts, that the manse door is always open to those in need and the unfortunate tale I am about to tell (once again at my expense) is a case in point. Perhaps I should add a hasty caveat to the misguided notion of ‘open all hours’  by saying that following our ritual nightly mug of Horlicks (I trust that it is acceptable to promote one particular brand over another upon these airwaves) my good lady wife and I are often as not tucked up in bed by 9.30pm and thus assuredly not at liberty to take ‘callers’ from thence on.

That we should therefore be disturbed from our slumbers at 9.48pm precisely, (as noted by our SpongeBob SquarePants digital alarm clock – I  have not quite mastered the automated machines at the local Argos outlet and this was this the fruit of my ‘punching in’ an erroneous product code) by an unremitting loud rapping on our front door, was most irritating indeed.

On opening the door I was confronted by a rather angry female from Fedex, or so I believed. Not only was I rather taken aback by the late hour of her delivery (not that we were expecting anything, unless of course the good people at Argos had seen see fit to kindly rectify my error and supply me with the rather more conservative model of alarm clock that I had originally intended to purchase) but I quickly reasoned to myself that it was I who should be a little ‘angsty’ about this doorstep scenario and not her.

My demand that she proffer some form of ‘ID’ appeared to simply make matters worse. To boot, she did not seem to wielding anything that looked vaguely parcel-like in the least. Not that I think that anything she had been carrying would have survived the rigours of her fiercely clenched fist which looked uncomfortably primed for action.

It was only when I enquired as to what Fedex were doing at the manse at this late hour that things began to become a tad clearer.

It would seem that her fiance (Fred) had recently ‘got religion’ (or so she put it) after attending one of our popular ‘Pasta ‘n’ Praise’ evenings. Because of her unwillingness to respond to his entreaties to ‘turn or burn’ (I am a little unclear where he picked up this unhelpful jargon) he felt duty-bound to end their engagement forthwith. That their wedding was but two weeks away was the reason for Fred’s ex wedging open the front door of the manse and refusing to leave until her ire had been fully satisfied.

I fear that my offer of a complimentary ticket to next Monday’s next ‘Pasta ‘n’ Praise’ evening by way of compensation (we normally charge £1.50 I’ll have you know) did little to appease her nor my attempt to lighten things with a witty retort about her taking the UPS with the downs (UPS being the arch rival I believe of the aforementioned Fedex).

Onward and upward

Derek

‘I’m back!’

Dear friends

It has been a tad too long since I last ‘blogged’ but you will be pleased (I trust) to know that I am back.

I fear that the excuse I am about to proffer for my prolonged absence will appear somewhat lame, but I can only say it as it is.

My enforced ‘online exile’ was precipitated by an unfortunate incident at the outset of one particular Sunday morning service at St Cliff’s.

It is rare that we see fresh faces at our services but on this particular Sunday we were graced by a middle-aged couple who wasted no time in asking this and that about the church.

I felt that I wasn’t doing too badly until the gentleman slipped in what I considered was rather a ‘curved ball’, (considering that the clock was ticking inexorably towards our service ‘kick-off’ time) and it is more than my job is worth to be absent when Mrs Higginbottom, our erratic and tone deaf organist, strikes up for the opening hymn (or chorus, if I’m feeling brave).

The question my inquisitor asked was not one that I had ever expected to answer at St Cliff’s (if you know anything at all about the general lack of spiritual appetite resident within my flock) and I was thus theologically unprepared.

“What is your end time theology?”

This pertinent poser reminded me of an occasion early on in my Christian walk when a fellow enquired of me as to whether I was a Calvinist or an Arminian. Likewise, not having a clue at to what he was referring I retorted that I was in fact British (thinking that he was meaning Armenia, a mountainous country in the  South Caucasus region of Eurasia and I had not the foggiest what a Calvinist was).

In that I was ‘ready to roll’ for our morning service I delivered (unwisely) the first answer that popped into my head.

“Midday at the very latest I should imagine”, (thinking that he was referring to the finishing time of our service and not things pertaining to the ‘mark of the beast’ et al) “though sometimes we run a few minutes over if our organist loses the plot (a not uncommon occurrence) and adds a few additional verses to the last hymn, lack of words to accompany them not withstanding.”

Not only was my reply met with what appeared to me like a suppressed chuckle but to make matters worse I subsequently discovered that these incognito visitors were in fact ‘Mystery Worshippers’ reporting back to that comedic internet portal, Ship of Fools, no less.

Perhaps I would have been a little more on my guard had I but known that this was the case, but then again I supposed that is the whole point of this unofficial church OFSTED.

The icing on the cake to my embarrassing downfall was that the bishop just so happens to be a regular visitor to the aforementioned website and thus my gaffe was well and truly exposed.

That a church on his patch should be led by someone with such gaping hole in their theology was too much for him.

Having deduced that I perhaps spent more time ‘surfing the net’ than I did in sermon preparation I was summarily issued with a ‘’blogging’ ban until my biblical understanding of  the ‘last days’ was brought up to scratch.

I will admit that I did not take kindly to being presented with a copy of ‘Revelation for Dummies’, feeling it a tad patronising having successfully delivered many a sermon in my popular (with me at least) ‘Leviticus Highlights’ series.

The good news is that I now know my Amillenial from my Premillenial and I achieved full marks in the helpful test at the end of the book.

What I had not noticed was precisely how many questions the author of this handy tome had in fact concocted in the interests of slipping in (under the radar) a spot of cheeky ‘end time’ humour.

I am not sure whether I am to be applauded for attaining 666/666 or not!

Onward and upward

Derek

‘Let my people go!’

Dear friends

If you have travelled with me for any length of time on my journey along the World Wide Super Highway it will not have escaped your attention that my flock at St Cliff’s are not the world’s best when it comes to their ability to concentrate (and with particular reference to my sermons).

Having been the incumbent clergyman here for a fair few years now, it has been a heartfelt ambition of mine to encourage the ‘comatose faithful’ (as the bishop rather unkindly refers to my congregation) to dig a tad deeper when it comes to studying scripture and to ‘put away childish things’.

Having accepted the position at St Cliff’s (re-named in the ‘swinging 60s’ in a moment of madness after a popular Christian crooner of that era) it soon became clear that I had my work cut out if I wanted to be in with even half a chance of getting my flock out of spiritual nappies.

Thus, people falling asleep while I am speaking has not been an uncommon occurrence, but what I hadn’t previously experienced was yours truly nodding off during the course of one of my sermons!

This Sunday, just gone, I had been preaching from the book of Exodus on the enslavement of the Israelites. I will confess to having got rather bogged down with attempting to concoct a meaningful anagram from the initial letters of each pesky pestilence but (due to lack of vowels) found myself with something akin to a bad hand at Scrabble at best, or an unpronounceable Welsh place name at worst.

A combination of the warm summer air and the stupor that had come to rest between my befuddled ears as a result of my machinations sent me slipping gently into the proverbial Land of Nod.

I fear that I would have remained in that place of slumber right through Sunday lunch had I not succumbed to one of my recurrent snoring episodes (my good lady wife prefers to refer to them as her ‘cross which she must bear’) and abruptly startled myself back into the land of the living.

I can only assume that in that sleepy interlude I had begun to imagine myself as Moses himself and I awoke to find those immortal words “Let my people go!” passing loudly over my dribbly lips.

It was obvious that my congregation had not quite appreciated my exegesis on Exodus as much as I had thought they might and without a moments hesitation they responded to my Mosaic pronouncement with a hearty “Amen”, grabbed their personal belongings and raced for the exit, laying holding of their freedom in the manner of the aforementioned Israelites.

Glancing to the clock at the rear of the church I noted to my surprise that it was in fact midday (close of play for our services if you know what is good for you) and realised that I had been asleep longer than I had imagined.

Whilst I have no idea the precise length of time I remained in this slumbery state (nor what my flock were doing during this ‘down time’) one thing I am aware of is that as a result I had inadvertently committed the cardinal sin of all ministers – forgetting to pass the offering bags around.

With my congregation beating a hasty retreat (in the manner of the Israelites), and carrying  with them their cash (or Egyptian gold if you wish to continue the metaphor) it was apparent that I had missed the moment.

In that I have to meet with our terrifying treasurer (Mr Clench) first thing tomorrow morning to explain my fiscal failure I can but hope that I, like Moses, have a few tricks up my sleeve  to remind him who is in fact boss.

Onward and upward

Derek

A tad embarrassing!

Dear Friends

Having recently overhauled St Cliff’s somewhat lacklustre and faith-deficient prayer ministry team so comprehensively that even the early church would have been proud (and by that I am not alluding to St Cuthbert’s up the road who have added an 8am service in an attempt, I suspect, to cream off the ‘Sunday trade’) it is none other than my goodself who has now gone and let the side down.

In fairness to me, the gentlemen who came forward for prayer last Sunday talked rather quietly and whilst it might have appeared that my attentive and forward-leaning posture was one of empathy and concern it was in fact nothing more than an attempt (and an unsuccessful one at that) to discover what on earth the mumbling fellow was indeed saying.

Rather than send him away ’empty-handed’ I finally decided to plump for my best guess at what he was asking me to pray for. Laying my hand on his bald pate I proceeded to command the renewal of the absent hair follicles, much to his surprise I might add.

It was only after I had pronounced a hearty and faith-filled “Amen” that I discovered, to my utter embarrassment, that the gentleman had actually wanted me to pray for his family whose pet rabbit had recently passed away and thus for ‘their loss’ and not, as I had mistakenly imagined, ‘hair loss’.

I think I will probably absent myself from the prayer ministry rota for the next week or two until its reputation is once more restored.

Onward and upward

Derek

‘A change is as good as a rest!’

Dear Friends

‘A change’, so the old adage goes, ‘is as good as a rest’.

Unfortunately I cannot vouch for the validity of this sweeping generality as I am, what the other old adage identifies as, ‘the exception that proves the rule’.

I write to you from the cramped and rather damp confines of our ‘luxury’ caravan at the Estuary View Holiday Village where my good lady wife and I have come to recharge our ecclesiastical batteries.

I confess to not yet having enjoyed what the brochure somewhat elastically refers to as the ‘sun-kissed golden sands’ and instead have as yet only managed to enjoy the rain-soaked utility block which is positioned but four feet from our window.

Our plans to visit a local church were scuppered when Mr Bradshaw, the proprietor of this latter day Colditz, discovered that a man of the cloth was in residence and promptly volunteered my services to lead ‘Hallelujah Hour‘, his desperate attempt to keep any of the faithful amongst the inmates from escaping to the village church, whereupon seeing the myriad B&Bs that line the village street, they might succumb to the lure of their charm and warmth.

I can only but think that the Hallelujah Hour derives its name from the cry of relief that goes up whence these sixty painful minutes are up. It is a preacher’s worst nightmare to be faced with a congregation whose constituents are but one man and his dog. It must be presumed that on this fated day one half of this infamous duo was off chasing rabbits or some such canine pursuit. This left just me and Mr Jolly, the resident white coat (a bleaching accident having drained away every last colourful memory of his days at Butlins) to go through the motions.

I was beginning to wonder how two unaccompanied voices might survive the rigours of Mr Bradshaw’s extensive list of suggested hymns (my wife and able pianist being bedridden with a suspiciously sudden outbreak of something vague), when Mr Jolly whipped out from his top pocket two teaspoons which he proceeded to play, without respite, for the duration.

The trauma of his interminable clattering was such that I fear there are some hymns that I may never be able to enjoy again.

The upside of this was that, unbeknownst to me, Mr Bradshaw took it upon himself to pipe this calamitous hour to the furthest corners of the site and Mr Jolly’s dubious talent was not only heard by a holidaying minion of the Songs of Praise television programme’s production team but Mr Jolly has also now secured himself a slot when the show returns to the parish next spring.

That Songs of Praise is broadcast at the precise same time as St Cliff’s evening service is something for which I will be ever grateful.

Onward and upward

Derek

‘The longest day!’

Dear Friends

I have spoken little of our incumbent youth worker Millie for some time and finally, when the opportunity arises, I fear that it is one that I would now rather avoid.

Having been charged with holding on to the reins at St Cliff’s a little too tightly of late (by some in my congregation who had obviously been absent the particular Sunday I preached on the subject of submission to leadership) I decided to prove my critics wrong.

With that in mind, young Millie was more than up for my suggestion of her doing my monthly children’s talk. Mustering all my best efforts not to meddle (and thus give my accusers further ammunition), I gave her carte blanche to ‘do as she willed’.

As Sunday arrived my heart was cheered as Millie launched into what I believed to be an illustration on faith and reliance upon God. As far as I could see she appeared to have gone one better than the oft-used ‘fall backwards and I will catch you’ example.

Having selected four couples (each with a young child in tow) she proceeded to ask that they hold their offspring above their heads, the husband holding the upper body end and the wife the lower limbs. What faith indeed that these little ones so fully trusted their parents not to drop them, I mused.

O that my musings had not been so naive. What happened next not only surprised me but also Mr Dowsett our visiting preacher who had come to venture forth on the rise of paganism in our fair isles.

It had not occurred to me that Millie had so arranged the parents and their children that they resembled (as it soon became apparent) a mini version of Stonehenge, no less. It had also not occurred to me that the summer solstice was but two days hence, (it not being a date that the Anglican church calendar chooses to pay homage to) nor that Millie’s theology might have strayed a little from the straight and narrow since I first interviewed her for the position.

I do not believe that the incantation Millie proceeded to chant was taken in any shape or form from our beloved Book of Common Prayer. Neither was the unfamiliar song (uttered by a group of hoody-wearing teenagers who joined her in this charade) one which our perplexed organist, Mrs Higginbottom, could find anywhere in Songs of Fellowship.

Their druid-like appearance did not escape me, nor for that matter Mr Dowsett who hastily gathered his notes in disgust and exited our sanctuary without so much as a by-your-leave.

With hindsight I wish that I had given more consideration as to how to redeem the situation. Stepping onto the platform in my flustered state I was unwise to ask Mrs Higginbottom to launch forth into a song which I had hoped would swiftly rid us of the unfortunate pagan influence.

Perhaps if I had been a bit less hasty I might not have selected ‘From the Rising of the Sun’ as my song of choice and thus given the appearance of my approval to the proceedings.

Onward and upward

Derek

 

A Whit wash!’

Dear Friends

You will be heartened to know that I will be leading the forthcoming Whit Sunday service at St Cliff’s and not a visiting speaker, as was the case last year.

Had I but known that the gentleman in question (and his accomplice) would pull a ‘fast one’ I would not have allowed the fellow carte blanche to summon our expectant congregation to the front to receive their very own personal pentecost, as he put it.

Having lined these modern day ‘tarriers’ across the front of the church he proceeded to move along the line, pressing his outstretched hand firmly onto their foreheads and commanding them (in a somewhat aggressive tone), to “receive!” One by one the subjects of his dubious ministry crumpled at his feet as if under the power of God.

What I had not immediately noticed was that whilst he was busily drawing attention to his flamboyant theatrics his side-kick was moving behind the row in perfect synchronicity with him and at each turn ‘kneeing’ their clientele in the leg joints from behind so that they could not help but physically buckle.

To all intents and purposes this gave the outward appearance that the recipient had been slain in the Spirit but in reality ’twas little more than a trick of the trade for this pair of charismatic charlatans.

With yours truly at the helm this Sunday I am hoping for the ‘real deal’ with a particular emphasis on the gift of discernment so that last year’s events are not repeated.

I am also hoping that none from St Cliff’s prayer ministry team noted the aforementioned techniques being employed and the ‘guaranteed 100% success rate!’ which appeared to accompany them.

Onward and upward

Derek