My office is out of an Enid Blyton tale
Though it is always a mistake to whisper it abroad, at the time of going to press there is a pleasing lull, a pause to draw breath and survey. The church is at least a third less full than usual; many parishioners are away, their deficit to some extent made up by visitors, many of whom say they are visiting family here, but that their family does not practise.
It’s as if the parishioners feel a more leisurely atmosphere too and they linger longer after Mass to chat. But clearly not everyone feels the change in mood. One lady calls to say that she has flown in from Dubai for the weekend and finds it would be a convenient opportunity for me to baptise her child. Another telephones to say that she has heard that if you don’t get your child baptised within the first six months it can count against them when trying to get into an oversubscribed Catholic secondary school, so as her child is now sixth months she would like him baptised next weekend. I explain to her patiently, I hope, that the desire to get her child baptised sooner rather than later, is a good one, but not so that she can get him into a Catholic secondary school more easily, but because baptism is the beginning of her child’s life of relationship to Christ, the acceptance of God’s saving love. I forbear telling her that at least one diocesan Catholic education service wants to disallow late baptism being considered as a criterion for selection, baptism having taken place being the only objective fact to take into account. To tell her this would mean that, according to her own expressed rationale and indeed theirs, she needn’t worry about getting him baptised until he’s 10.
In the middle of this quiet time there are still some exciting things happening. Well, exciting things are always happening, somehow there is more time to notice. Two regular parishioners have given birth to beautiful babies and we also welcome two adult members into our family, both recently moved in, one from South Africa and one from Nigeria. We become more richly cosmopolitan by the week, almost, with several new Italian families moving into the parish in the past couple of months. This wonderful mixture and the great number of families with children were much in evidence at our parish barbecue at the beginning of the month. Two hundred people were fed and entertained in the presbytery garden in glorious sunshine. It really was one of those occasions to be treasured. Many of our parishioners are fiercely loyal to one of our four Masses over the weekend and so can go a long time without meeting the other three quarters of the parish who attend the others.
The occasion wasn’t even slightly marred, as far as I was concerned, by complaints from some neighbours that we had “ruined their peaceful afternoon in the garden” with “the noise of all those children”. We offered them a couple of bottles of wine by way of a gesture of goodwill. They refused. It gave me an idea to write a sequel to The Selfish Giant in which the Giant’s neighbours start complaining about his garden always being full of the noise of children and their gardens are suddenly covered in permafrost and they have to hold barbecues all year round just to keep themselves from being frozen stiff like popsicles.
The presbytery refurbishment grinds on, though the builders have promised it will be finished by the end of August. No, really! To be scrupulously fair – though at this point I am not sure why I feel inclined to be – a huge amount of work has been done. I suppose my quibble is that though an awful lot is done none of it gets finished, with the possible exception of the roof, though I haven’t myself, inspected that very closely; I am taking this on trust. Having renewed the roof, and essayed the wiring, plumbing and what estate agents used to call the usual offices, we now discover that the house’s main drain has collapsed, and the fault is somewhere out in the middle of the main road outside about 15 feet down. Yes, it is still our responsibility and no, it is not covered by the building’s insurance. Apart from the cost, it is with trepi dation that we look forward to being the cause of weeks of worsethan-usual traffic jams as the road is dug up to replace the drain. Given the bureaucracy involved in coordinating with the local authority, the Highways Agency, old Uncle Tom Cobbley and all, not to mention petitioning the neighbours for their gracious permission. Who knows? They might have pedestrianised the road before it happens. On the positive side, the local authority has finally admitted agreed to rebuild the collapsing wall between us and the library which, as librarians say, is long overdue. Actually I am thinking of asking the library if they have any chequebooks on their shelves, so quickly do I seem to be getting through my own.
I am really praying that come the beginning of September there will be a little domestic stability, days without water pouring through the ceiling, a kitchen, an office that doesn’t magically move daily like something out of an Enid Blyton story, and just a chance to concentrate on saying my prayers and doing explicitly priestly things.