Today I have three of them, others of you may have one or two. Yes, it possible that some of my comrades with seventy-six churches in their benefice will need to rent a teleportation device, but this is the season for the Church Summer Fete.
These are not simply social gatherings. They are the yield of a year of planning, of committee room sparring and of flounces flounced. Among the cream-teas and silly-hats, danger lurks for the hapless cleric:
- The dog show needs judging, and if you get that wrong you can kiss goodbye to your biggest 'giver' (and the fete organiser, churchwarden, organist, head server, PCC secretary ... all these roles being held by the same nonagenarian). This pales into insignificance when placed next to the worst of the worst - the Cutest Baby Contest. Be afraid, Vicar, be afraid.
- Produce Stall: You don't know what is in that jam-jar, when it was made or by whom, but if you are to get through the day un-murdered, you will need to shell out the £8 a jar and buy three. No jam, no chance. Cakes are normally safe, but a hasty sprint from the car upon arrival will be only way of assuring a purchase. Failure to arrive early at the Cake Stall will mean that you will lose to the large person who always buys ten and freezes them (for a period of consumption that remains a mystery).
- Tombola: Did you ever stop to wonder who Tom Bowler was? He was the first vicar to overlook to buy twenty-quid's worth of tickets for the raffle, and after his execution, they formed a new game and named it after him. It's written in the Olde Englyshe nowadays. Well, your are laughing if it is a Bottle Tombola, but beware the queue - though that said, the odds of winning that Single Malt are 3,600,000,000,000,000,012 to 1.
- Raffle: Twenty is plenty, but any less and you become the social pariah (see above). You don't want to win that jigsaw with the missing piece, and lavender smellies are not your thing, but avoid the Raffle at your mortal peril.
- Bric-a-Brac (a sort of rhyming slang for 'A Load of Cra...' you get the idea): A pile of unwanted goods, a single stacked-heel boot, a computer disk with software for the eagerly awaited ZX Spectrum, a kitchen device hitherto unseen by human eyes, a collection of four chipped Hornsea pottery mugs, a spittle-washed teddy bear (wrenched from the arms of its devoted owner only days before), and some pants on a scale that suit Moby Dick. You need to buy, vicar - just one thing, but buy you must. They don't have change for that Tenner though.
- Book Stall: No theology here, Farv - but lots and lots of Maeve Binchey and more smut-fest Mills and Boons than you care to swing the Vicarage Cat at. If you are really really lucky, there will be a Haynes Manual for the 1976 Austin Allegro or a book on the forgotten episodes of Star Trek (though the pages with the good bits will be long long gone). There will be some Tracts though. The Tract Fairies always seem to appear in the dark of the night and infiltrate book stalls, and so titles like: "Why God Doesn't Like It When you Eat Cake", or "The Forty-Six Prayers of Jesus During His Sleep" - eight copies apiece, but no-one knows how they got there.
- The PA System - oh my word, the focus of all that can (and will) go wrong! Button-up and it's on. Button down and it's off. Easy. Or so you would think. The average vicar will get it wrong to begin with and so will greet his crowds in near silence (which will annoy the person running the Cutest Granny Contest because the contestants are still fighting over the loo). Conversely, the microphone will be live when the Reverend feels it appropriate to comment on the daft hats, the poorly attired, and the basically funny-looking attendees - all at eight-thousand decibels. Worse still if the Vicar visits the loo with handset in pocket convinced that privacy will be assured. "Beans last night Vicar?"
- The Barbeque: Now it is absolute fact that only nutters drive the Burger Stand at Summer Fetes. You may think that the articles places in your grasp is charcoal with nasty sauce, but you would wrong. That was incinerated with malice-afore-thought, and just for you. What is brought to the stall holder is a nice array of burger patties, Lincolnshire sausages, Cumberland sausages, marinaded chicken drum-sticks - what you get is a symphony of the incinerated similar. "I think that was chicken, Vicar. Onions with that? The sauces are over on that ... oh, in the dog's mouth"
I love a good Summer Fete. They are church life at its best in my opinion. It is the 'inside' coming outside, and for the outsider, it is a chance to regard the sallow skinned, sunken eyed Sunday Shufflers and see that they are human and can, despite all that is heard, work as a team for two hours a year. The church will raise some much needed cash and in the end, they are a sure sign of the Kingdom.