Christmas is coming
Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford finds it difficult to keep smiling
This has undoubtedly been the hardest blog I’ve written in the two years since I started, for a whole variety of reasons. I’d originally planned to do something light-hearted around the theme of: “didn’t want to say ‘bah humbug’ but I’ve already fallen into the trap” and then rabbit on about how hard I was working because of all the many festive events we run in the Minster.
Then the snow came.
Suddenly concerts were being cancelled like ninepins (if that’s not too mixed a metaphor. Actually, I suspect it is but it’s got a ring to it, so it’s staying in, so there).
Anyway, John and I had turned all the chairs round in the nave (about 360, thanks for asking) and got another 150 in place for the County Choir concert (plus moving all the staging and lighting equipment to the back of church) only to find that our efforts had been wasted. So I spent the Thursday and Friday putting them all back again – mysteriously undisturbed by visitors.
Then the Grammar School, the Concert for Heroes, each a victim of the weather and suddenly my pay packet’s eagerly-anticipated boost from pre-Christmas overtime had vanished. And then there were all those disappointed people; organisers, participants, parents, audience. It’s not easy to remain upbeat.
I also faced a major problem, blog-wise. What to write now? You see, you may not realise it but my pointless prose is actually written at least ten days before it appears in the Beverley Advertiser (and sometimes more than two weeks before it finally trickles onto the web pages – c’mon guys, please pay attention). I suspect the publishers need this long to for the lawyers to check my copy then send it off to Wikileaks.
It’s difficult to be safe with what you write about events in snowy conditions. I’ve heard many stories over the years about theatre critics who, thanks to tight deadlines and/or extreme laziness, wrote their reviews of performances well in advance only to find the actual event was cancelled after they went to print. It’s very embarrassing, if not positively career-threatening.
Mind you, it’s not as bad as the dim and distant days when I was a magazine editor: the lag time on editorial there was three months so today, for example, I would be writing about sun-kissed Easter breaks, having got all the rubbish about ‘Christmas in the Cotswolds’ out of my system and down to the designers in September.
This led to some incongruities: I remember one particular swimwear fashion shoot taking place in a snowstorm – the goose pimples on the models threatening to overshadow their more normal protuberances and contours.
It also led to a mental dislocation and subsequent matrimonial problems – my mind was geared to the spring and the colours of green, themes of new growth and then my wife would remind me there were two shopping days left to Christmas. This explains why some of my presents included unfestive items like beach loungers and sun tan lotion.
Well that describes some of my difficulties with this particular column and, if anyone would like to end on a happy note perhaps you should stop reading now because, to continue the musical metaphor, Christmas is a rich symphony and sometimes the chords stray from major into minor.
Yesterday I heard that friends had suffered a tragic, unexpected and devastating personal loss in truly heart-rending circumstances. I’ll admit to crying when I heard the news and I’m still shell-shocked today. How? Why? Why did it happen?
Now I’m a virger, not a vicar. I do the cleaning not the ‘ology’ (oh yes, very clever) but I am a Christian and, if you are a Christian with at least half a brain then you have to work out what something like this means to your own faith and understanding. So here I go with my personal checklist:
Firstly – God didn’t do this horrible thing to test his servants. That’s not the God I know. It just happened.
Secondly – He shares our pain. That’s not just wishful thinking, but something I have felt in my own life and he helps us to recover. No matter how deep down you fall, through despair or behaviour or oppression, there is always a way out with God’s help and the support of others. The route may be long and seem lonely, but no one needs to be alone– even though in the blackest moments that may not seem true.
Thirdly – There is life after death and we will all meet again. That’s not yet been proven scientifically but it seems rather a lot of work for evolution to go through, just to give each of us a random spasm of consciousness for a few decades that then disappears.
Fourthly – Prayer works. It does – end of story. I, and many others, will be praying for this family and also, redoubled, for others.
This not the happy, complacent note I might have chosen to share just before Christmas but it’s a clear reminder that not everything is hearts and flowers for everyone and reminds me that the Christian Christmas is actually about giving – especially to those less fortunate than ourselves.
Normally I pay give lip-service to this ideal, but this Christmas I, and perhaps others, have been shocked into facing this truth. We should actively seek out those who may be hurting or in trouble. It may not help this particular tragedy, but it might prevent others in the future.
And that, in its way, is a true Christmas gift.
First published December 2010