|Ss Philip & James Whitton|
And so it came to pass that Christmas came to pass, and that Christmas present fast became Christmas past. The Christmas to which I refer was, as a Vicar, my first and I hope and pray will not become my last. I arrived with hopes and a few more aspirations. The truth is, dear readers, that each was amply surpassed. Of my train of thought you may inquire, and on I get with it, pretty fast.
As a curate, in many ways the show that is Christmas is laid on by others. One joins an organisation that has its routines and rituals, and it is incumbent upon the curate to slot in, pick up some of the duties, and generally crack on. That changes, subtly, as the Incumbent. Yes, we join an organisation with its routines and rituals, but not a single one would happen without our 'agreement'.
As September edges into October edges into November, as the New Vicar, it fast becomes apparent that an unspoken expectation develops. What are doing this Christmas, Farv? The response was, this year, along the lines of 'what you did last year is good this, so I can watch and learn'. A pall of relief fell over the community.
Then the great feast arrives, Advent flies past with a pace, and the services start to loom. I confess that threw a few curved balls to see what response I would get - a meditation on the penultimate Saturday before Christmas, opting to sing the Preface at Midnight Mass - things like that. The response was good, though if I am honest the lock-changes occupied people's minds more than my liturgical adaptions.
Priests will tell you that Christmas is a busy time. Poppycock. Actually, in the great scheme of things, it is about the same as the rest of the year on one level, although the burden of stress seems to increase on another level. We churn out more services, yes; but the meetings abate, the schools close and many aspects of a Vicar's day fall away. Lots of carols, lots of stress. The stress is as a result of knowing that, to a greater or lesser extent, the parish Christmas is in my hands. That is a big thing to absorb. I am blessed with brother priests and readers who were able to look after a few services, and sitting back in a pretty cope was still stressful. What if ... what if ... what if? We want Christmas to be perfect, unique and fit for use and fit for God. Anything less is, to most of us, abject failure. We worry about numbers, collections, musicians arriving on time, all that stuff.
In the end, although I would have sweated every bead whatever I knew the outcome to be, it was a wonderful Christmas. The stress implicit in the 'what ifs' is balanced in the satisfaction of a well attended service, the faces of children engaging with the content, the laughs of typically straight-laced adults, feedback, swollen collections, people coming back already, myriad myriad new faces and returned familiar ones. I didn't make it happen, because I am but one wheel in a very large cog, but that doesn't mean I didn't pat myself on the back on Boxing Day. This Vicar is blessed by a capable, committed and energetic flock, most of whom added to the celebrations in specific ways. The church was full most of the time, and with minimal stress from anyone (apart from the Vicar).
It was everything I had dreamed of and hoped for, several times over.