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VICAR’S IN A TWIST

20-06-2007

"Come on Vicar" says Lynne Hawthorne. "Let's be having a bit of sincerity on the wedding day. For God's sake".

I went to a wedding recently. It was a glorious English June day, with blistering sun and not a cloud in the sky. The bells rang out as the bride and groom emerged from the church, looking beautiful and happy, to the smiles and cheers of friends and family.

So why didn’t I feel uplifted? I blame the vicar. Fairly and squarely. On this, the most important day of a couple’s life, you expect happiness, goodwill, even joy. What they got was a consummate acting performance and not a bit of it was genuine.

To start with, the church had suffered a leaking roof and the interior of the church still had scaffolding on either side of the aisle. No-one had attempted to move or disguise the bright blue plastic tarpaulin and the place had the air of a building site.

Worse still, I thought, were the growbags and orange cones on the benches either side of the porch at the entrance to the church. I hope the video chappie managed to edit those out.

As the organist struck up the first chord, a lump of plaster fell from the ceiling, right where the bride was due to walk, and the vicar and the verger cast a few anxious glances – no, I can’t say they looked anxious.

No, there was definitely an air of tedium – before the bored verger sauntered off to a get a dustpan and brush.

This was after the vicar had had what can only be described as a hissy fit.

The guests, none of them regular churchgoers, had gathered at the church gates to see the groom arrive and didn’t seem in any rush to go inside.

The inexperienced ushers were at a loss as to how to get them to move, so the vicar took the initiative.

"Come inside. It's two o'clock and we're already late! This is silly!" he muttered, then fled down the aisle, shaking his head in exaggerated motions, chuntering about the whole thing 'being ridiculous.'

The plaster incident was also directly before he admonished the photographer for taking too long capturing the moment the bride arrived outside the church. “There isn’t time!” he insisted.

Now, I didn’t see any notice posted about there being another wedding that day, and this bride and groom had paid a considerable sum of money for the use of this church, so I couldn’t understand what the problem was.

What was so urgent that the wedding couldn’t begin, as is traditional, a few minutes late?

'Here Comes The Bride' heralded the entrance of the bridal party and the congregation stood up. The vicar turned to face us.and plastered on a smile that was worthy of a crocodile.

He attempted a few humorous remarks, congratulated the bride on abandoning the traditions of ‘old, new, borrowed and blue’ (without stopping to consider that if every bride did away with tradition, he’d have no-one left to marry) and simpered away to convince us that he was happy to be here.

As soon as the obligatory photograph had been taken, he disappeared, but only after insisting that any confetti thrown had to be done so outside the church grounds – er, left for the public to clean up?

I was disappointed. The bride and groom didn’t appear to notice, but a number of guests had. This had all been an act, a show.

I was disappointed for many reasons. This is the church that has stood on this hill for nearly 1000 years. This was the church where I was christened. This was the church where my godfather was churchwarden.

And this is the church where I nearly lost God for good. I attended a Midnight Mass here one Christmas, hoping to find some inspiration in a life that had lost its way a little.

Instead, I came out depressed and miserable, after having been rebuked for daring to be about to enjoy Christmas by a vicar who seemed to have no joy in his soul.

There is no denying that the Christian church is in deep trouble.

Churches all over the country are losing congregations as they age and die off, no longer being replaced by the young, the young who are seeking other gods, like shopping, car boot sales and foreign holidays.

And vicars like this one are doing yet more damage by failing to be genuine, failing to understand the needs of the people.

I waited a year before setting foot in another church, again going to Midnight Mass, but this time finding a (female) vicar so full of joy and fun and life and genuine interest in people that I got caught up in the whole thing.

From being a complete scoffing sceptic, I signed up for the Alpha Course, attend church regularly and even now work in a faith school.

I can’t say I’ve swallowed Christianity totally, but I am more open to it and feel that I am steadily finding the peace I sought. And that has been done not through an institution, not through a text, not through a building, but through a person so committed to her job and calling that her passion is genuinely infectious.

So, to the misery on the hill, I say this: Be thankful for your calling, pay it respect. Think about the people who come to you and why they do so. Care about them, look after them, because without them, your church has no future and you have no place.

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