Some weddings, one or two school carol concerts, a few christenings, some funerals, one Sunday service.
Those are the occasions in the past 60 years when I have voluntarily walked through the door of a church, taken a seat at a pew and remained for the duration of whatever the event in question was.
It says “Church of England” on my birth certificate so for official statistical purposes I am a Christian of some flavour or another, the historical context being that one King in my historical lineage had a row with a Pope and stomped off to declare himself the Gods representative just in this country, like a God Special Friend who only works in this country, so he could form his own church, get rid of a wife he hated and marry a much better looking one, sounds fair enough, if you’re a King.
I’m quite a hard sell, I’m quite sceptical by nature, what do you mean you’ve noticed, I don’t buy products just because a sharp suited kid who’s only ambition in life is to own a Porsche next year tells me I should buy the product he is selling, so I don’t buy into things without a lot of convincing first.
Apart from that Bullworker.
And some other stuff that I saw on eBay
I find it difficult to take advice from a man (for invariably its a man) who does not have to work for a living, has never been made redundant, never out of work, does not have to go looking for his income, gets paid a wage, is given a house to live in, does not have to face any of the normal day-to-day stuff that “normal” people do, and then has the audacity to tell them that they are doing things all wrong and they should all live their lives like him, yes we’d all love to be vicars and priests but who would empty the bins ?
Oh I’m sure that they’ll say that it is a job, that its hard work, they’ll say that because part of the job description of vicar is to convince people that they should believe you without question, but its not a job, its not getting up at 5am five mornings a week to go and stand in a factory for £7.20 an hour with the threat constantly over your head that there are hundreds waiting to step into your shoes if you don’t want the job and then finding that all the money is gone one week into the new month because you had bills to pay, being a vicar is not like that at all.
And so when the woman to whom I have been legally obliged to hand over my bank account details to for these past 34 years decided that she an I should get married, and yes, it was she who decided that it should be so, when that day happened I had to contact Alan Shepherd.
Yes, the astronaut Alan Shepherd.
OK, not really the astronaut Alan Shepherd, this Alan Shepherd was the vicar Alan Shepherd, a local vicar in the local CofE church just outside of the village that we lived in, it was our parish church apparently, I was told, and so it was to him that we should report if we were “to be wed”.
There was another CofE church in the village, a little wooden affair that looked very scandinavian, I’ll say this about religions of all flavours, they know their architecture, they build some lovely big and lovely small buildings, the little wooden church in our village was very quaint in a Hansel and Gretel sort of way, well maybe not Hansel and Gretel, I mean you wouldn’t expect to go there to be married and find yourself both locked in separate cages being starved to death by the vicar who was really a witch, anyway…
So we had an appointment to be interviewed by the vicar Alan Shepherd in his Victorian Gothic vicarage which really was on a bleak hill overlooking the village, an unlit black stone built Gothic monster of a house in which the vicar Alan Shepherd lived all on his own with just an elderly housekeeper to prepare his meagre soup each evening before scurrying away back to the village with fearful glances down the lane over her shoulder, yes it really was like a Tim Burton film, really.
He welcomed us at the door, a young man, a smile on his face and he wafted us in through the door and into a room just off the hallway which served as his office.
Or at least I assumed it was his office, in other circumstances I may have described it as one of those rooms that you see in TV programmes called “My neighbour is a secret hoarder” where some random celebrity walks in, throws everything into a skip and then 30 minutes later tells them how much better their life will be now that they can see the carpet in their house again, the vicar Alan Shepherd had books, lots of books, and paperwork, lots of paperwork, I never realised how much paperwork a vicar has to do until I sat in his room full of paperwork and he explained that he was “just doing a bit of paperwork” and waved a hand around the room in explanation, it looked like he was doing paperwork for the whole of the Church of England and then just throwing it on the floor when he’d finished doing it.
“Can we get married in that nice little wooden Hansel and Gretel church in the village please ?” we asked
“No” he said
…and then after a pause, “THAT church isn’t used any more” and the way that he said “THAT church” left us in no doubt that there probably was a Hansel and Gretel locked up in there in separate cages, being slowly starved to death.
“Oh” we both said but neither daring to ask the second part of that question, the bit that went “Why ?” so instead the woman who was intent on getting me to sign a legally binding document (I’ve checked, several times) in order to occupy my bank account for ever and ever amen, she asked, “Well that other little church in the grounds of the big house at the bottom of The Avenue, can we use that one instead ?”
“No” is what the vicar Alan Shepherd said, “I only use this church” and he waved his hand at the blank wall to his right, beyond which we all knew was another church, an ok sort of church, another dark Victorian Gothic structure that was a perfectly good church as churches go, and so that was that then, the fact that the vicar Alan Shepherd had three churches in his domain, two spare ones that he had no use of never struck me as odd at the time, now it just serves to remind of how wealthy religions horde stuff like churchs they don’t use and the land on which they stand, because they can.
“Why do you want to get married ?” the vicar Alan Shepherd asked, he’d done this before, you could tell.
This was my moment, this was the gateway that he was holding open to me, he may even have tapped the side of his nose and winked in a conspiratorial way towards me, this was where I should have said, “You know vicar, thats a very good question, may I take the next thirty years thinking it over and maybe get back to you on that one ?”
“Oh its because we truly love each other of a god-borne love of lovey-ness beyond all understanding , blah, blah, blah” is what I said instead.
“Are you church goers ?” he asked, I tell you, he’d done this before, here he was giving me another reason to think it over for the next thirty years.
“Erm, don’t you think its been awfully cold recently, really damp, gets right through to the bones doesn’t it ?”
“I’ll put that down as a no then, now what date would you like…”
Clearly his church wasn’t all that much in demand as a wedding venue and this was back in the day when a wedding venue left with the choice of your local church or the registry office, back in 1983 you couldn’t get married in a balloon or a Wacky Warehouse, oh no, vicars and registry officers had a monopoly on things like marriages.
All in all it wasn’t as much of an ordeal as we expected, the vicar Alan Shepherd was a very nice young man, unmarried himself but still prepared to lecture on what makes a good marriage, a bit like me lecturing an astronaut on how best to prepare a Saturn rocket for launch with the optimum mix of liquid hydrogen and oxygen taking into consideration two burns of 200 seconds to reach a desired orbit.
We even agreed to go to one of his Sunday services, ostensibly to “hear the bans read”, we didn’t know what “hearing the bans read” was all about but apparently it was required to do this on three successive Sundays in order for the religious folk of the parish, those who actually went to a church service on a Sunday, had an opportunity to object to us being married there, if only, if only, you set of utter bastards, if only…
So we went the next Sunday, to see the very nice and very pleasant vicar Alan Shepherd carry out his vicar-duty on a Sunday morning service.
It wasn’t the same vicar Alan Shepherd.
Or at least it was, it was the same vicar Alan Shepherd in the same vicar alan Shepherds body that we had met just a few evenings before, but once he stepped outside of his Gothic vicarage house and into his Gothic Church of England church a change came all over him, he became a mad ranting buffoon of a vicar who seemed to think the whole world was evil and especially those poor miserable sinners who had turned up in numbers that almost numbered a dozen, to listen to him on this miserable fekkin evil wretched sinful Sunday morning, complete with fist-bangs on the pulpit just in case you weren’t getting the message that he was a bit annoyed with you and the whole world in general.
Apparently his boss, The God, had told him personally that he was mighty pissed off with the whole world in general and that he, The God, was going to make life pretty fekkin miserable for all of us when we were dead if we didn’t buck our ideas up pretty soon, he, the vicar Alan Shepherd, apparently being the man who could guide us back in line with what The God considered good.
That was the gist of it anyway, accompanied by lots of pointing of the vicar Alan Shepherds finger, condemning pointing, the sort of pointed, wagging finger that when a headmistress does it to you then you know you are in deep shit, the vicar Alan Shepherd did lots of pointing like that, eventually he had pointed at everyone in the congregation, all dozen of them, and ranted and raved at them all, all of them being little old ladies in big winter coats who clutched handbags and cowed in his presence as if what the vicar Alan Shepherd was shouting at them was coming from the throat of The God himself.
The soon to be wife and I sat at the back of the church with fifty pews worth of separation between ourselves and the frightened trembling congregation, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, this bloke was a fookin lunatic.
Afterwards, upon leaving the church, the vicar Alan Shepherd stood at the door shaking everyones hand and wishing The Gods will be upon them, he was smiling again, he was the original vicar Alan Shepherd again, he took my offered hand in both of his hands and shook it for ages, thanked us for coming, smiled profusely, he all but sold us some double glazing, he was good, he was very good at this stuff.
We didn’t go back, apart from the wedding day of course, of which I have dozens of stories…