Thursday, 6 September 2012

A Week in the Life of a Curate, Day 3


Pottering out of bed this morning, the ritual of tea, papers, prayers &c. begins as normal until a text reminds me I was supposed to be in Kensington Gardens with my running buddy. He has a real job so we meet in the park at 7am, which is horrendous at least until you're back and in the shower. The unusual service for the school has distracted me and I missed our date. He forgives me but, although I enjoyed half an hour more sleep (otherwise a 6.30am wake up), I'm pretty irritated. I try and run at least twice a week and having someone to go with is helpful. We have agreed to do the Grizzly next year and he's sent me information on a 200mile week long race called "The Dragon's back" in the welsh mountains, which looks "interesting". A letter arrives from an estate agent (these are very regular) saying that they've just rented a 2 bedroom house in my street for £900 a week. I briefly fantasize about moving in with the vicar and renting the house. A very quick way to more than triple my salary...  Meanwhile the gas board are digging up the street and have decided to begin their work immediately in front of my kitchen. My recently planted flowers will probably die from the dust, if general neglect does not finish them first. I read another articulation of guilt, anger and shame by Hughes, learn briefly about the marginal revolution in economics, and then head to church. The service is actually very nice - I quite like Common Worship morning prayer and we have a couple of hymns which give it a lift; our new organist is very amenable. The homily is brief but seems to go down well. I'm finding it easier to take in a sentence at a glance and keep my eyes up.

Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles tells of the early Christian communities, on the one hand fearful of persecution, on the other hand growing quickly and taking the name of ‘Christian’ for the first time.  We also hear of how these early Christians took this social and religious identity seriously, giving what they could for the relief of their fellow Christians in other places. It should give us pause to think that here we are so far removed from Turkey and the Middle East, and two millennia later, yet carrying on this same name, “Christian” - as Christianity and latterly the Middle East have come to West London. But what does it mean for a school to call itself ‘Christian’ and ‘Church of England’?

We live in an age that hates institutions. Membership of the Conservative Party has fallen in the last 60 years from 3 million to 175 thousand. The RSPCB now has more members than all the parties together.  With the new social media people feel little need to belong to anything serious beyond casually ‘liking’ and ‘following’ a celebrity or show. We are so far from making the life and death commitments of the early church that our only point of contact with this seriousness-of-life is the terrifying news reels from Syria, which seem unimaginable, a different world. This is hardly to be regretted, but I’m reminded of those snarky comments you hear about the middling banalities of the English - that ‘they’re always willing to admire anything so long as they can queue up’; that ‘an Englishman thinks he is being virtuous when he is only being uncomfortable’; that ‘the English think incompetence is the same thing as sincerity’.  And yet the last two years, the wedding, the jubilee, and most of all the Olympics and Paralympics, has touched a passion for deeper solidarity and belief, some genuine shared cultural identity in Team GB, that is a recognisable good. People talking on the tube? National pride instead of self-deprecation? And London, now a glorious picture of success, hospitality, openness, energy? The weather may bring us back down, but for now at least we bask in a delightful Indian summer.  

What gave the early Church its enthusiasm and enough energy to blow it across the known world within two generations was the discovery of a shared sense of purpose, solidarity founded on the belief of God’s unconquerable love.  A universal message of reconciliation, peace and charity in a truth that sort to communicate a message of hope in the darkness of poverty and suffering. The Church of England is the Church of this realm. This is a position of privilege but it should not be a position of control and exclusion. It is called to serve this country with those same values of solidarity, hospitality, openness and generosity experienced in London this Summer, welcoming all, being present for everyone. As a Church of England school we have an opportunity at the start of this term to foster these values. To push the sense of pride, collaboration and friendliness between old friends and newcomers, as well as the individual excellence that earned our medals. 

We also celebrated 150 years of this historic school this summer, a testament to the faith and hard work of generations - teachers and staff who believed in the Church’s ministry of education and pastoral care, children who were shaped and grew out of these values. Building on what has gone before, let’s continue to foster the legacy of team GB and the deserved reputation of a great world city. This means not turning in on ourselves in fear like those early Christians after the death of St Stephen; but supporting one another joyfully like those in Antioch, who in seeing the needs of others gave, ‘each according to their ability’.

After the service a colleague and I head over to the estate coffee morning. It's largely an event for housewives and the elderly, fuelled by gossip, caffeine and the admiration of each other's houses. Most of the chatter today is about holidays so it has a slight back-to-school feel. When I first arrived these things were hard work. It's mostly small talk with occasional narrow-mindedness and complaints about how people in the area 'can't even speak English'. As you get to know the people though it actually becomes really quite fun and you pick up on the internal politics and class struggles of eyebrow raising and posture. Today we are graced with a veritable banquet, which neatly becomes lunch.

Stella is at the house cleaning when I get back so I hit the roof for some sun before heading down to watch the beginning of Prime Minister's Questions. He looks harried and while it would be almost impossible for the opposition not to come off better, Miliband is now looking a little more like a politician and less the gawky, bolshy school boy. Having said that I suspect if an election were held tomorrow no one would bother voting: 'shat on by Tories, shovelled up by Labor. And here I am... perhaps the last island of beauty in the world...'. Perhaps.

It's the children's confirmation class in the afternoon so I spend some time thinking of how to explain the Bible to 9 year olds and devise some games to get them to learn the books and how they fit together. The class actually goes really well; it's a lot more fun than I expect and most of the knowledge is there even if it's not always tied together very well. You always get funny and amusing tangents from kids and although they have real trouble saying "Deuteronomy" they are quite insightful about subjectivity and how the same thing seems different with different eyes. The vicar has returned having had a particularly good holiday and is in fine form.

After a speedy evening prayer I head off to meet a fellow Roman curate in King's Cross. I've found a sherry bar in a nice little courtyard which is marvellous. Roaring would most certainly approve with her frequent trips to Malaga. My comrade prefers cocktails however so we go next door first for a pair of French 75s each. The staff condescend because we don't choose their own cocktails. After a large sherry we go for steaks found on google maps, where the staff condescend because they think they're very fashionable. The steak is the bloodiest I've had and comes on a big board. Unfortunately the board is too big for the table and my plate is pushed right to the edge. Disaster occurs when the plate flips steak on to my lap and plate, loudly, on to the floor. "Would you like a new plate sir?" The staff condescend further and I cover my shame with a red wine filter. After a brief interlude involving mojitos we end up St Pancras hotel where the staff turn condescension into an art, though to be fair we are a little rowdy and it's past midnight. They do, however, provide delicious snacks with our drinks. My fellow lush has missed his last train and comes back to the house for a final glass of wine. At 4am I call Roaring to see how her retreat is going. She is pleased to hear from me and I drift off to sleep sometime following...

1 comment:

  1. This is an excellent series. It is exactly how I imagined your life, which obviously I regularly do. I would happily read a whole book of it. I might even contemplate buying said book.


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