A view backstage at Beverley Minster

The advent of Advent

Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford considers his career options.
I wasn’t really surprised recently when I read that a former church is now being used as a Tesco Lite, or SainsburySimple or something like that. The article was accompanied by the predictable photograph of a cash register in front of a stained glass window surrounded by happy shoppers.
Now this was way down south where, as we all know, they do things differently, but it started me musing, After all, one of those flying or retired bishops who is said to be leaving the Church of England for pastures Roman Catholic declared that the Anglican church: “is like a coffee chain going out of business”. So perhaps I should consider my employment prospects.
Luckily for me it would appear that many of my current skills are transferable to any new retail chain that might take over the Minster, not least my willingness to work for something not too far above the minimum wage. I am experienced with mop, bucket and Henry (or Henrietta) and have just been awarded a colourful certificate to show I am competent with a Nautilus (that’s the name we virgers have given to our magnificent new floor-washer – although that might still change).
Of course, that’s not all there is to my job: I’m also certified to do basic level first aid which means, in this age of no-win, no-fee litigation that if I see a casualty I’m allowed to wave at them from a distance and ask if they’re all right (in a non-sexist and unthreatening manner) before I can fill in a questionnaire and risk assessment which then permits me to call in the professionals.
Stacking chairs/stacking shelves – it’s basically the same. Being apparently friendly and welcoming to people – ditto, Working odd shifts, yep; uniform, yep; staff discount for Christmas cards and gifts, yep; fussy management? Obviously.
So that’s my cv complete and I believe the pension arrangements are better than the one I’ve got at the moment – which is an increasingly important consideration at my ancient point in life.
It’s not even as though I’d have to give up being a Christian to work at Tesco and, to be honest, there are moments when the working day at the Minster feels a bit disconnected from God. So that’s all right.
Mind you, I’d miss a few things as well and, I suppose, these are the things which would make me hate to simply swap jobs. These differences have their origins in the very foundation of each kind of organisation and so are fundamental.
Each of the current national retailers was founded by an individual who was able and willing to provide goods to the general public at a reasonable profit level and then developed their empire through shrewd and aggressive business planning.
Cynics could easily claim the same history lies behind much church expansion through the centuries and they certainly have a powerful – if cheap – debating point with it. However, that’s not what STARTED the church off some 2000 years ago.
It was a simple message: the bottom line, or USP as modern marketing jargon would term it, was the call to be good to others: to know that God loved each and every one of us individually and to respond to that love. This was a revolutionary thought – it freed slaves, ended poverty and despair and provided a better life both now and after death (and I’ll happily debate each and every one of those points with anti-religious zealots, especially if they’re buying the drinks).
It also leads to joy, and we’re demonstrating that at the Minster this Sunday, 28th November, with our NEW, IMPROVED Advent Service.
Roll up, roll up, roll up!
It kicks off our lead-up to Christmas which, I hope you remember, is actually a Christian holiday to celebrate the birth of a child. It’s not a secular holiday dedicated to the gods of shopping, gluttony and tinsel-edged TV programmes.
It involves a huge amount of work from a large array of volunteers and a very few (poorly-paid) professionals to put on an unforgettable show which has no price tag, no entry charge and doesn’t demand that you buy anything.
And if you can’t tell the difference between that and a late-night Christmas shopping experience at ASDA then you’re probably already dead.
 First published November 2010


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