This is not a post about the style of Vicars, because even as Jesus himself did, we should all wear black and with tonsure collars. Images of Jesus in beige dresses was purely to appease the folk festival lot!
No, this is a post about us vicars revisiting some of those oft abandoned territories, those places left well behind in the wake of the Ordinal and the swap from the baggy Watts cassock that smelled of old men, to the viscose version with all the buttons that smell of younger men. I speak of that tectonic progression from honourable Altar Server to Clerk in Holy Orders. If you are a non-liturgical Christian (unlike Jesus, who said the Angelus thrice daily, and that's a fact), look away now - for you will have no idea what I am about to write about.
It is a factor in parish life that when some people absent themselves from parish life, they leave little less than a whisper of a breath of a breeze and you would hardly discern their departure. Then there are others, who after turning and ankle in an (allegedly) drunken brawl, cease to be able to function in parish life and leave a chasm such as would hold even the ego of the Whitton Vicar. People come and people go. One such someone turned their ankle in an (allegedly) drunken brawl, leaving us short of one Altar Server this Sunday past. For those of my ecclesiastical tradition, we are talking about Taperers or Acolytes (like Jesus was when he turned eleven and hadn't fully learned to wield his plane).
There was ne'er a replacement server to be found. Ankle turn-ed lady was not able to heave the weight of her candle, and there was thereby a vacancy. So I stepped in. I'm the Vicar, I thought. I wrote the ceremonial, I reasoned. I have been a server for years, I ruminated. So it was that I donned a cassock-alb, wore my stole deacon-wyse, set aside my little skull cap and wandered into church the left-hand of two Altar Servers.
The simple fact is that I cocked it up from beginning to end. I have a liturgical awareness that is fashioned by decades doing the very thing that I failed to accomplish this very day. I kicked the candle during the Gospel Procession and now have a viscose-smelling-of-me cassock covered in candle-wax. I moved the altar rail across for the distribution of the Holy Communion while I was on the outside of it, not the inside. Afore the aforementioned Gospel Procession, I had noticed that I had forgotten to label the short hymn "x2" so we verily sang it once and it was done before we even started to move off.
Many lessons were learned - many reinforced home numerous times by my beloved Sacristan (who is, for the record, older that Solomon). If Sunday presented the Vicar-as-Server Gravestone, my Sacristan exhausted himself dancing on it! But what a fabulous insight into the worshipping life it presented. How quickly I had set aside so many of the simpler lessons of serving, and how quickly I have acquired habits of unpredictability so as to enliven the worship here. It is now clear to me how much of a pain in the arse I must be to serve for, and indeed how blessed I am by the team of servers that I have here.
Indeed, this is my recommendation to ordained men and women, particularly those of a liturgical bent - serve once a year at least to remind yourself of where you came from, the skills you had already forgotten, what life is like in your ceremonial wake. In so-doing, be open to making a total pratt of yourself, because humility is no bad ally in parish life.
To my own worthy team of Altar Servers - thank you, thank you and thank you. You are bloody marvellous!