A view backstage at Beverley Minster

The dawn of a new era

The king is dead, long live the king – or something like that.
By the time you read this it should all be over and I’ll be clearing away some 250 plastic chairs from the nave.
Yes, on Wednesday evening The Reverend Canon Jeremy Fletcher was formally invoked, induced, inducted, introduced – I don’t know, something like that – in the role of vicar of Beverley Minster and its daughter churches by the Bishop of Hull.
Assuming all went well (which it will, of course), the church will be/was packed with well-wishers to see a service which will be/was conducted under the firm but fair guidance of the virgers – well, that’s my hope anyway.
It’s been a bit of work getting ready for the big event. We’ve had to guess at the likely level of demand for seats – John and I reckoned 600 was about the right figure to start from so, while my esteemed colleague was on holiday I set about filling in the gaps around the font and the western end. That gave just over 400 so then, raiding our stockpile, I started assembling two rows down the side aisles and left some strategic reserves around the building in case of overspill.
That was the easy part – now we could physically accommodate the predicted number of attendees but the next question was, how do we arrange things to accommodate the way in which this service was going to operate?
This was the first time this form of the old service had been performed. An Anglican committee has been tweaking some of our ceremonies and, luckily, our incoming vicar sat on that committee, so he knew about as much as anyone how it was intended to run. That saved a lot of time.
As I’ve never seen a vicar installed or created or collated, or whatever, I haven’t got a clue what was different about this service but, in any case, most of the planning detail involving the virgers seemed to concentrate on how we could display the various actions and presentations.
Where was the bishop to sit? Should there be a kneeler with a rail in front of him or merely a cushion? Where do we put the 24 to 40 robed clergy who might attend and how do we get them to go there when they’re supposed to? Where should we put the lollipop mics and which way should they face? Where should we hide the bishop’s glass of water? How will Jeremy get the prayer bell to ring on cue?
On top of our efforts this there has been sterling work by the flower ladies dressing up the church in a luxuriant floral display, the choir has rehearsed a new range of material for the occasion, the office has been sending out invitations and collating replies, and assistant curate Richard Carew continued to loudly count down the hours until he could quit the demanding and uncalled for task of keeping the Minster running for 11 months without a vicar.
It’s all been very busy and strange things have been happening as well. For a start we’ve had some unexpected services on Saturdays. Basically, on two recent weekends, church groups turned up unannounced at 4.55pm to sit in on our 5pm evening prayers – which caused a bit of a problem as we haven’t had one of those since before the last vicar left.
Luckily the first party had brought their own priest with them so we virgers let them get on with it, but the second one only had an organist – and that’s not really enough.
Deciding it would be a bad thing if I threw out a load of would-be worshippers out I called Jeremy and asked if he’d like to play at being the vicar. He complained that he wasn’t dressed appropriately and I pointed out that a long black cassock covers a multitude of gardening clothes.
He appeared a few minutes later, gown swishing behind him and, after a quick confusion about which book to use, our visitors were treated to a proper service.
That was a lucky catch and, over the last few months, I’ve needed to do more and more of these quick improvisations to sort out unexpected problems. It’s nobody’s fault but it’s strange how the Minster has increasingly felt like a spinning top that’s gradually running down. 
I have every confidence that Jeremy will, metaphorically, wind it all up again over the next few months, which will be a relief for everyone, not least the Reverend Richard Carew who can now concentrate on the task of finding his own church to look after instead of babysitting this one.
It will be a different church after Wednesday – it’s bound to be. Although the job title of ‘vicar’ demands certain standard starting points (such as a belief in Christianity) the way in which each vicar undertakes their job varies widely, depending upon the personality of the individual involved and the team around them. Jeremy seems a much more outgoing character than our previous vicar and this is bound to change peoples’ perception of the Minster itself.
To paraphrase the old song: “Meet the new boss. Different to the old boss…”
Although we virgers don’t know if this new regime is going to involve a lot more chair-moving or not I’m sure we’ll do our best to keep on smiling and make everything look as straightforward as possible. Normal services will be resumed – that’s a virgers’ joke by the way. Hahahahahahaha.

First published September 2009


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