A view backstage at Beverley Minster

The thin red line

Quick – buy another tin of Humbrol gold, we’ve got to change the notice board again. The Minster has just entered a strange period in church life called an interregnum. In simple terms it means that we are without a Vicar.

Yes, our own Revd Canon David Bailey has preached his last service before moving on to pastures new on the other side of the Pennines. We now face an unknown period until we get a replacement. That’s not a good state for a church to be in – legally the vicar is the person who holds the freehold of the building and it’s their name that appears on all documentation. They are also the court of final appeal on all those important disputes such as where the coffee is going to be served after Sunday services, what notices can be displayed and where, and who is going to clean the kitchens. Once there’s no vicar then such matters can rapidly degenerate into all out warfare until a new judge arrives on the scene.
Getting a replacement can be a long process – when David was appointed some 12 years ago the standard procedure was to ‘invite’ a suitable candidate to come forward and face grilling by various committees and interested bodies before acceptance. Any particular group could veto the candidate and then the whole process would have to start again- in fact David was the fourth candidate to be interviewed.
These days it’s a bit more streamlined: the committee that represents the church members (the Parochial Church Council or PCC) defines what they are looking for in a replacement and the position is then advertised. We imagine a major church like the Minster will attract a lot of applicants, but who knows? It’s a high-profile office and that might put some good people off. In any case, even if we chose someone straightaway they still have to work out their notice at their own church.
To make matters worse, (or better, depending on your viewpoint), we’re probably losing our other two paid-for clergy as well within the year. Associate Vicar Nick Drayson is finalising plans to return to South America for his next posting while Curate Richard Carew is due to have his own church – if he can find one that’ll take him.
Assuming a new vicar isn’t in place by that time then the running of the Minster will be in the hands of unpaid and retired clergy – and the virgers.
In practical terms, most things will continue as they are until a new incumbent comes in to take the important decisions and change things – the virgers will help see to that.
We are the thin red line, the body of knowledge that people consult when they ask “how did we do such-and-such last year?” because, let’s be fair, if it involved physical work in any way then the virgers probably did it. We also know which areas have been allocated to each group to store their goods. We know where the keys are to unlock various parts of the building, we know where the candles, cups and carol sheets are and how to switch on the sound system.
I sometimes think that, without us, the whole thing would grind to a halt.
And, of course, there’s no way we would misuse this otherwise leaderless period to make life easier for ourselves. No, not at all – it’s always been the case that virgers have personal servants and enjoy lavish annual paid-for holidays – honestly.
So don’t be surprised if my next blog is sent to you from the Bahamas. I’m merely maintaining an old-established tradition.

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