‘Good Friday. Bad Sunday!’

Dear Friends

With Easter fast approaching I feel an uncomfortable flush slowly, but unstoppably, colouring my clerical countenance as I recall an Easter occurrence that has left its mark indelibly etched upon my memory.

Each year, in a bid to present a united front, the churches of our fair parish combine forces to partake in a Good Friday ‘Walk of Witness’.

Between you and me I had become increasingly uncomfortable as to the nature of the witness that we were in fact delivering. I could not help feeling that our sombre and silent procession along the lengths of the High Street did little to connect us with the very people we had been charged with sharing God’s love to and instead had the net effect of causing them to feel somewhat aggrieved by the inconvenience we were inflicting upon them.

I do not feel that they appreciated one little bit that not only were we causing traffic gridlock but our cursory glances into their cars as we processed past seemed to also carry with them more than a little of the air of condemnation for them daring to venture out into the commercial heart of the town on this of all days.

Knowing full well the inherent intransigence of the Walk of Witness Organising Committee (it took five hard-fought years to persuade them to allow children to accompany their parents lest the non-negotiable ‘no talking’ rule be inadvertently broken), I hit upon the idea of a companion event for Easter Sunday, but with smiles and joy being the order of the day.

Having circulated details of this new venture to all the churches in the locale I eagerly awaited the arrival of Easter Sunday.

Whilst the march on Good Friday had been its usual solemn reminder to the town that we were still there, (like it or not!), the day was blessed with the most glorious warmth and sunshine. As I inched passed the snarled traffic (avoiding the gaze of the irritated incumbents) my spirits were lifted by the thought that in two days an altogether more joyful representation of the church would be displayed.

As I drew back the curtains of the manse master bedroom on that Easter morn I could not believe the sight that lay before me. Gone were the verdant fields graced by the bloom of spring flowers and in its stead a heavy white blanket of snow as far as the eye could see.

Ignoring the advice of my good lady wife that perhaps I would do well to call the event off (her less-than-convincing excuse for not accompanying me being that she was suddenly feeling a little ‘woozy’ after her Lenten fast from lemon curd on toast), I donned suitable attire for the rather unseasonal weather and ventured forth to the pre-arranged meeting point outside St Cliff’s.

As I rounded the corner it soon became apparent that not everybody shared my enthusiasm for another Eastertide ‘march’ (lemon curd on toast fast or no).

What met my eyes were but three folk primed for the ‘Jaunt of Joy’ (which I had chosen to name it) and a half a dozen men and women of the local constabulary, one who appeared to be holding some form of weapon, though unless the Walk of Witness Organising Committee had taken umbrage with me I am not sure what resistance he thought the good folk of the local churches might be up against.

Having thanked the three attendees (two adults and a child in a pushchair) for their faithfulness in showing up I quickly discovered that the only reason they were there was because their young son was presently teething and they hadn’t slept a wink all night. They were hoping that the bracing wintery conditions might send him to sleep and, that being the case, they would be returning back home, posthaste, to get some much needed sleep.

It soon became clear that this was indeed the sum total of our number and it did not escape me that there appeared to be more than a little sniggering coming from the direction of the officers of the law.

I did suggest that, in the event of the low turn out, such a strong police presence was not really necessary, but they were having none of it. I suspected that this would be fodder for coffee break back at the police station and they did not want to pass up the opportunity of having a laugh at my expense.

There was nothing for it but to proceed as if all was well. Raising the ‘Jaunt of Joy’ banner which I had produced for the occasion (I do hope the St Cliff’s play group do not notice that I have all but drained their supply of poster paints), we set off in the direction of the High Street.

How I wished that I had chosen to wear a scarf. At least I could have wrapped it around my visage to cover the increasing reddening shades of embarrassment.

I could not help feeling that my fellow marchers were also sharing the ignominy of the occasion and it did not go unnoticed that they very soon overtook me and appeared to be giving the pretence that they were in fact simply window shopping and not part of the debacle.

Just when I thought things could not get any worse a latecomer crept in behind us.

Having nutured all the while the fear that the ‘icing on the cake’ of this tortuous procession would be one of our number breaking into song, the nightmare was fully realised.

With a voice that would awaken the dead, (and then wish themselves deceased once more) this lady launched forth into a cacophonous rendition of ‘He is risen’.

Whilst this song and its sentiment has long been an Easter favourite of mine this was no longer the case.

Contrary to the impression that they were trying to give me, I do not believe for one moment that our police escort were simply keeping themselves warm by employing a brisk motion of their upper body. Rather, I am convinced that they were unable to contain their mirth a moment longer and were veritably guffawing inside at the comedic outcome of the occasion.

With Easter once more looming large and the remembrance of all that Jesus achieved for us on the cross it is with gratitude that the burden of my sin no longer afflicts me.

That cannot be said for the mental anguish that is stirred up when I recall that less than uplifting, unfortunate Easter day.

Onward and upward

Derek

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‘There’s no fool…’

Dear Friends

April, that month of fools, is indeed upon us and my one and only attempt at giving in to the irresistible urge to see a fellow human being come a cropper as they succumb to some childish prank or other has not resulted in the hoped for outcome, at least not from my perspective.

While I would not wish to make too strong a link with myself and St John and his Patmosian revelation, it would not be too far off the mark to suggest that the idea that somewhat impishly popped into my head whilst in the final stages of setting the communion table was a wondrous inspiration indeed.

April 1st, Sunday morning services and old Mrs Higginbottom’s name on the organ roster are probably as rare a convergence as any solar eclipse and, in that respect, far too good an opportunity to pass up.

In but a trice an ample quantity of superfluous communion wafers were whisked away for summary re-housing within the darkened depths of St Cliff’s trusty old pipe organ to await a terrifyingly discordant and turbulent fate.

Pride, as they say, comes before the a fall and the smug expression that was working its way unstoppably across my face in eager anticipation of the fruitful culmination of my mischievous master plan was, unbeknownst to me, already packing its bags and preparing to leave.

My downfall lay squarely in my fateful choice of first hymn.

Whilst ‘Guide me O thou Great Jehovah’ is as good a stirring an anthem as any to get the circulation flowing through the veins of St Cliff’s comatose faithful, its hearty refrain could not have been employed on much worse a day.

Such bad timing as you could ever have wished for was only compounded by the very first usage of the wafer-stuffed pipes coinciding in unfortunate synchronicity with the singing of the lines, ‘Bread of heaven’.

The raucous cacophany of Mrs Higginbottom’s failed attempt to do this old favourite justice was only outdone by the ensuing stampede as the congregation, en masse, thrust forward to catch the apparent miraculous supply of manna that cascaded earthward.

My futile efforts to come clean and to put the record straight that I was to blame for this ‘miracle’ were simply seen as unbelief on my part and not worthy of someone of my calling.

To make matters worse, (if that were at all possible) some bright spark suggested that we should forsake our Sunday lunches and instead wait upon the Lord for a complementary supply of quail to be visited upon us.

We would probably still be sitting there waiting with unabated hunger had not Mrs Higginbottom seen fit to pass the time by inflicting on the captive audience her reminiscent-of-Les Dawson version of ‘The Entertainer’.

Her painful rendition had the effect of dislodging a lagging communion wafer thus revealing my folly and saving our ears from the ravages of death by organ recital.

Such was the gratitude of the congregation for their timely salvation from the latter that they were more than magnanimous in letting me off the hook, just this once.

Onward and upward

Derek

‘Does God lol?’

Dear Friends

Some time back I was asked the question, ‘Does God LOL?

Before I proffer my answer  I will confess to once concocting a ‘gag’ (as I believe it is called in the business) and it would be remiss of me to let the moment pass without recounting it.

Those of you who have followed my journey for a while will be aware that it was with much trepidation that I entered onto the World Wide Super Highway and I am still somewhat wet behind the ears when it comes to the popular vocabulary employed by my fellow travellers.

Thus it was my good lady wife who helpfully enlightened me as to the meaning of the appendage ‘LOL‘ but not before I had got myself in a bit of a pickle with a message on the Facebook internet portal to old Mr McMurtry (a crusty and cantankerous member of my charge; St.Cliff’s).

Having given much of his time and effort to picking holes in my weekly sermons he ‘messaged’ my good self to inform me that my apparently erroneous theology had finally driven him to pack his proverbial bags and to seek pastures new.

Having recently preached on forgiveness (chiefly for my own benefit to assuage the ire of the fearsome matriarchs of St.Cliff’s kitchens after I inadvertently forgot to return a Brillo pad which I purloined in the services of removing some graffiti to a sign outside our church – one particular member of my team did not appreciate the addition of the letter ‘R’ to the end of the warning; ‘SOFT VERGE‘) I had little choice but to send him on his way with my blessing (and love, or so I thought).

It was only later that I discovered that ‘LOL’ does not in fact stand for Lots of Love (as I had imagined) but Laugh Out Loud.

Having ‘signed off’ my reply to old Mr McMurtry with the aforementioned ‘LOL’ (in all innocence) I was therefore somewhat surprised to find a response, by return, recanting his previous exit strategy and informing me that he was now staying put to spite me for my insensitive ‘LOL’, albeit it inadvertent on my part.

It would appear that I, like St.Paul, must also endure a ‘thorn in the flesh’ (in my case, in the guise of old Mr McMurtry).

Anyway, without further ado, here is my aforementioned ‘gag’ .

“Why did the chicken cross the road?”

“That is not the question rather, what on earth was the chicken doing in the story of the Good Samaritan in the first place?”

I will admit that my humour may be a little too clever for some but I trust that, with time, the penny will drop and the joke will be got.

So, to the question at hand – ‘Does God LOL?’.

In that God called someone like me to be a veritable minister of the gospel I can only conclude that he most assuredly does.

Onward and upward

Derek

‘What’s missing?…’

Dear Friends

I readily raise my hand and confess that within the body of this apparently respectable clergyman lurks an inner child just itching to get out.

This latent youthfulness recently sprung to life when, on passing the nearby United Reformed Church and noticing that the last vestiges of this once august building had been finally razed to the ground (with the aid of a very sizeable demolition ball I assume) in readiness for their new building, I simply could not resist scribbling a minor amendment to the dog-eared and faded poster that adorned the lonely wayside pulpit that still stood.

Seemingly ignorant of the fact that there was now no church to be publicised it resolutely proclaimed to one and all that time-honoured (and somewhat corny) message favoured of many a church, namely ‘CH_ _ CH. WHAT’S MISSING? UR’.

Utilising the convenient indelible marker pen that lay resident within my jacket pocket (having confiscated it from young Wayne Peacock who I had caught in the process of similarly appending a mugshot of myself that graced St Cliff’s ‘Welcome Desk’ with a Groucho Marx-esque moustache, which, I should add, did not suit me in the least) I cheekily crossed out the second letter ‘C’ (so that it read CH_ _ _H) and then added the letter ‘C’ to the end of ‘UR’ to reflect the present state of this church.

I trust that those passing by this temporarily defunct ecclesiastical establishment will appreciate the cleverness of my witty word play.

I also trust that St Cliff’s property committee takes a leaf out the the book of our URC brethren and considers likewise bringing our ancient meeting place into the twenty first century.

Onward and upward

Derek

‘Football is biblical!’

Dear Friends

Oh what joy it is to read the bible with the veritable eyes of revelation and more so to discover something that has lain hidden from others for two thousand years.

For your information, (I am told that letting my guard down and sharing personal details will warm me to the ‘blogging’ community) I am presently employing a more relaxed method of daily Bible study which boils down to closing my eyes, opening the good book at random, running my finger down the selected page and then beginning my studies from there (having first opened my eyes, of course).

Having had more than my fair share of false starts which has found my index finger drawing my attention to (in no particular order) a rather confusing and contradictory map of the route of the Exodus, the ISBN details and most frustratingly, the blank page that sits between the Old and New Testaments, it was a joyous surprise and a relief (my run of bad luck having finally been broken) to find myself faced with the Acts of the Apostles and chapter thirteen in particular.

My joy was increased when I chanced upon the heading to the page: ‘Barnabus and Paul Sent Off‘.

That nobody has ever spotted this reference to football in the Bible is astounding.
I have made a mental note to write to Mr Kevin Keegan, who, if my memory serves me correctly, is presently the incumbent manager of our ‘boys’ in the English team and to share this wonderful discovery with him.

Onward and upward

Derek

‘Brain ache!’

Dear Friends

My mind is presently somewhat addled and I have only but myself to blame for this cranial disorder.

I share this with you en route to partaking of some much needed medication for this painful condition.

Much against my better nature, and the advice of my good lady wife I will admit, I have been reading up on the rival teachings of Arminianism (the notion that people possess free will to accept or reject salvation) and Calvinism (that God sovereignly chooses those whom he will bring to himself) in attempt to impress the theologically stunted of St Cliffs.

My good lady wife considers it the height of foolishness on my part to over tax an intellect which, to my shame, saw me having to re-sit my Cub Scout Astronomer badge on account of not knowing the difference between the subject in hand and its more dubious cousin, namely astrology.

The net result of this unfortunate error on my part was that I informed our all-too-easily influenced (some would say gullible) Akela that the present alignment of Ursa Minor and Saturn suggested that it was a good time to find himself a wife.

What the young Derek did not know was that his esteemed leader not only had ‘another half’ already but that the fruit of this sacred amalgamation was about to break into double figures.

If it had not been for the timely intervention of Baloo (a fervent born again Christian who even went so far as to remove the horoscope page from his daily newspaper before his wife had the chance to indulge herself in this ‘dangerous daliance’) who knows what terrible marital calamity might have ensued.

That Akela did not forsake his wife and children in pursuit of pastures new on the basis of my misguided celestial ‘heads up’ is something for which I will be eternally grateful and for which Baloo (even to this day I know him as nothing but this childish moniker) must surely take the full credit.

Anyway, here is the conundrum dear friends.

Into this much-debated doctrinal dispute (forgive me, but a penchant for all things alliterative is a particular weakness of mine) which has polarised the opinions of theologians into these two opposing camps, I am considering the dropping of a pebble in the hope of seeing what ripples it makes.

My rather clever (and somewhat cheeky, though I say it myself) conundrum is this.

Do the supporters of Arminianism have the liberty as to what they believe only because God has sovereignly chosen them to think like that in the first place?

I am calling this Calvanistic Arminianism (patent pending).

And do proponents of Calvinism hold their beliefs in sovereign election only because God has given them freewill to make such a choice?

I am calling the Arminian Calvinism (ditto).

Onward and upward

Derek

Post Scriptum: I fear that this brief forray into the realms of higher theology will rebound on me and my good lady wife will be proved right.

Onward to the medicine cupboard before my head explodes.

‘The laugh is on me!’

Dear Friends

Having preached on the subtle dangers of duplicity and deception at St.Cliff’s but a few weeks ago I find myself falling foul (albeit inadvertently) to this very evil myself.

With this Sunday’s sermon safely ‘in the bag’ I passed the baton on to our prayer ministry team who were eagerly waiting in the wings to cash in on the fresh opportunities for response that I had presented to my flock.

Leaving them to it I broke my own golden rule and surreptitiously switched on my trusty ‘Nokia 6216 Classic’ before the service had in fact run its course.

I immediately noticed an amusing text that was obviously doing the rounds and it was all I could do to stop myself tittering away like a schoolboy. My attempts to disguise my jollity as a ‘frog in the throat’ did not work and with my shoulders working overtime (in the manner of a former Prime Minister of this fair land) I could hold in the laughter no longer.

It would appear that my sermon had not been quite as challenging as I had hoped and the prayer ministry team found themselves kicking their heels in search of any clientele they could lay their hands on (literally).

It did not take long for my poorly suppressed guffawing to attract the attention of one of their number, Mrs Mildew, and who was on me like a shot.

Assuming (wrongly) that I was experiencing the joy of the Lord (and not the fruit of the aforementioned humorous text) she proceeded to thrust her ministry hand upon my head and to decree with much fervour, “More Lord, more!’

Feeling somewhat disinclined to come clean as to the true reason for my mirth-making (and also being sensitive to the fact that the unfortunate woman had not had a very good ‘hit rate’ of late –  it is perhaps best also that we forget her valiant attempts to pray for someone with hearing loss only to discover that they in fact wanted prayer for an earring loss) I decided that there was nothing for it but to feign laughter in a bid to pretend that her spiritual diagnosis was indeed correct.

I can only assume that her recent catalogue of ministry disappointments had built within her a steely determination to press on regardless and ten minutes later I found myself still having to fake this supposed spiritual encounter.

If it had not been for the sudden appearance of a member of my flock making their way to the ‘ministry area’ (having apparently fallen asleep during my sermon and thus having missed the call for prayer) who knows how long I would have had to maintain this unfortunate charade.

Whilst relieved to have escaped this enforced (and somewhat duplicitous) event I now find myself left with the maxim ‘practice what you preach’ running guiltily around my head and would now assuredly benefit from a member of the prayer ministry team to help ease my conscience.

But with Mrs Mildew the only hand now left manning the proverbial pumps…

A dilemma indeed!

Onward and upward

Derek

‘Once bitten…!’

Dear Friends

Much is made of the community spirit that manifests itself at times such as these, and in this I refer to the present deluge of snow that has befallen this fair land.

Having ventured forth from the warmth and comfort of the manse (forsaking my emergency supply of chocolate digestives) to assist in the clearing of St Cliff’s front path, it did not occur to me that I might lay myself open to the opportunistic high spirits of our youth group whilst engaged in my good deed.

That Millie, our newly installed youth worker, should organise an impromptu snowball fight within the grounds of St Cliff’s was something of which I was unaware, not being familiar with the ‘text’ facility on my mobile phone.

Perhaps I should have removed my clerical vestments prior to venturing forth but old habits die hard.  Having gamely laughed off a ‘direct hit’  from young Charlie Wiggins which necessitated the hasty removal of my sodden dog collar to retrieve the remains of the frozen missile from my person, I would have done well to adopt that helpful maxim of, ‘once bitten, twice shy’.

That I did not simply laid me open to further calamity.

Having naively agreed to the culprit’s offer to make a snow angel as a way of saying sorry I at once assented, believing that St Cliff’s might yet have a seasonal sculpture to outdo that of the Methodists and their snowy monstrosity which purports to be an accurate rendition of John Wesley yet boasting a carrot for its nose at one and the same time.

Had I but known that a snow angel required the services of the human form laying flat in the icy drifts I might have been a little more alert.

I was not!

I have a strong suspicion that it was not only the hand of master Wiggins that floored me but also the outstretched floral wellington boot of Millie.

It is now not only my dog collar that will need to reside overnight in our already clogged-up airing cupboard but almost every garment that I was wearing.

Whilst it would appear that all concerned consider me to be a ‘good sport’ and that our new youth worker seems to have built a rapport with her charges, I cannot but help feel that it has been at my expense.

Fortunately I am preaching on the subject of grace this coming Sunday and I trust that this will help me to overcome the temptation with which I am presently wrestling, namely to turn off the heating in the youth room this Sunday to give them a taste of their own medicine.

Onward and upward

Derek

‘A new year begins!’

Dear Friends

A new year begins and this, I am certain, is going to be St Cliff’s year. I can feel it in my water. Which reminds me, I must make a point of removing my emergency supply of effervescent Alka Seltzer tablets from my trouser pocket when called upon to conduct baptisms.

When Mrs Philpott sprung back to new life from the tepid depths of St Cliff’s baptistry last month she all but cleared the first two rows of the congregation who, fearing that having been buried to her old life she had now risen up, foaming at the mouth, as the first of a new breed of rabid believers.

I have taken it upon myself to write to the chairman of the pharmaceutical company responsible suggesting that perhaps a little less fizz in their product would be no bad thing.

Every cloud has a silver lining and Mrs Philpott assures me that since that unfortunate day she hasn’t suffered half as much from indigestion as she used to. A blessing indeed!

With the festive season but a fading memory I have taken it upon myself to propose to the Christmas Decorations Committee that it would perhaps be in everyone’s interest if next year we purchase either an artificial tree or one that has not the least hint of a root. Notwithstanding, that is, the rather vociferous objections from old Mr McMurtry that allowing a Christmas tree into St Cliff’s is tantamount to heresy being that “there be no mention of them there pagan abominations in the Holy scriptures”.

In that the Bible is also somewhat silent on the subject of Christmas cards I feel duty bound to scrub Mr McMurtry from my Christmas card list post-haste lest I be accused of straying into heresy in this matter as well.

With regard to the said Christmas tree, whilst I recognise that Mrs Roberts’ flower ladies were more than keen to use up the somewhat excessive ‘job lot’ of Baby Bio that came their way courtesy of Mr Roberts (and no doubt the rear end of a lorry at some point, if I know her husband), their daily routine of generous plant food top-ups for our tree only served to encourage the already over-sized tinsel tower that the Christmas Decorations Committee had seen to inflict upon us, to sprout heavenward at a rate of knots that would have put any Apollo rocket launch to shame and left us with not only a superlative hole in the roof but also the only church in the parish that could boast a ‘spire’ at both ends, one of which sported the slightly more garish crowning glory of an intermittently flashing Christmas fairy.

One can only hope that when the bishop joined us for ‘Carols at St Cliff’s’ his perennial neck ailment kept his gaze fixed firmly earthbound.

We can only but wonder what this year has in store for us at St Cliff’s.

Onward and upward

Derek

‘Tis the season to be jolly!’

Dear Friends,

Another year has almost passed and once again the season of goodwill toward all men is upon us. Whilst this goodwill may be proceeding bountifully to us from a heavenward direction, its horizontal progress, man to man, is I have to say, more than a tad stop start.

In time-honoured fashion, we at St Cliff’s had willingly embraced the spirit of ecumenism and were more than happy to do our bit by joining with our our brothers and sisters from the other churches in the parish to leaflet drop the village as to the times and occasions of the many and various Christmas services that will inevitably be taking place.

I have to confess that it was all a bit ‘last minute’ for my liking and the first sight any of us had of the said leaflet was but seconds before commencement, thus its content was something to which we had to trust its producers, a decision we were later to regret.

Had it not been for an invitation to partake of mince pies and hot drinking chocolate at the home of old Mrs Williams we would not have had the opportunity to peruse the festive missive that we had been dutifully delivering.

Even by the light of Mrs William’s rather annoying randomly flashing Christmas tree lights it was still possible to make out the variations in print quality which blatantly emphasised the offerings of one particular church over all the other faintly printed ones, St Cliff’s being among their number.

It would not have required the services of Sherlock Holmes to have worked out to which church Mr Stannard, the printer of this ephemeral document, was affiliated.

As if this wasn’t enough, it would now seem that a veritable ecumenical war has broken out as a direct result of this underhand ploy to cream off the Christmas trade with all but our good selves now vigorously engaged in canvassing the parish to promote their particular denominational Christmas offerings.

I have noticed that even Mr Cone, the ice cream man, who I will admit does have a rather lean time of it during the winter season, has been employed in this unseemly fracas with his speaker system being used to announce, in strict rotation with his theme tune of ‘Popeye the Sailor Man’, which is the best church to go to this Christmas.

Such is life, but we at St Cliff’s have decided upon what we consider to be the most obvious of enticements.

I think that perhaps we will simply preach about God breaking into history as a baby, growing up to be a man and dying on behalf of sinful man. That, I suspect, will be sufficient.

Let us now just hope and pray that Mrs Higginbottom, our organist, saves that bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream I bought her as an early Christmas gift until after ‘Carols at St Cliff’s’, in the vain hope that she may yet pull off a rendition of ‘Silent Night’ that isn’t the volume it was last year and which would not only have awoken the Christmas babe from his slumbers but probably most of the residents of St Cliff’s graveyard.

With my best wishes to you this Christmas

Onward and upward

Derek