A view backstage at Beverley Minster

We’ll keep a welcome in the Minster

Neil Pickford nearly loses his temper

There is a group of volunteers in the Minster who do a wonderful job, day-in, day-out which I would find almost impossible. They are the welcomers, who stand by the door to greet strangers, offer them a leaflet in the language of their choice and are ready to chat to anyone who asks. They are our first line of defence – they are the ones who normally deal with the two constant questions (“what is the difference between a minster and a cathedral?” and “where are the toilets?”) and keep smiling every time they do so.

I’m afraid that, although I do try hard, I sometimes find myself less able to keep a friendly face when dealing with these hardy perennials, especially when doing something else. This means I can appear dismissive of individuals at any given moment, which is rude.

My mother is the complete opposite to me in that respect so it’s obviously not a genetic thing – my wife also defaults on the side of the angels and so I can only conclude that it’s Life that has driven me into being an unsociable so-and-so.

I do keep striving to improve but find it all too easy to default into being the type of character who, as the phrase has it: “doesn’t suffer fools gladly.” And when you’re the person defining what constitutes a ‘fool’ then it’s easy to condemn other people on the flimsiest grounds.

I keep reminding myself that I’m in the Minster for two reasons (well, actually, thousands of reasons, but two primary ones): to prepare the building for whatever purpose and activity has been permitted and scheduled and to act as a proper representative of the Minster to members of the public when I’m on duty (and also, these days, when I’m not).

I think I’m getting better at it – the building, the staff and volunteers around me and the general Christian ethos of the place are starting to have an effect, but there’s 50 years of bad reflexes to overcome, and I felt them welling to the surface t’other day.

I’d occupied my morning by turning pews to face the west of the church, ready for a concert. I’d already built part of the staging and realised I now had to vacuum the nave as moving the chairs exposed some rather bedded-in dirt that had been previously hidden.

I’d been Henry-ing away for about 15 minutes and was halfway up the south side (and feeling somewhat hot and bothered in the humid conditions of that particular morning) when one of the welcomers told me a visitor had commented on how the Minster was full of the noise of vacuuming.

This sounded like an idiotic complaint and, feeling generally overworked and underappreciated I reacted badly. I swelled up with indignation and mentally prepared my angry response: “What do you expect? St Paul’s Cathedral and a staff of thousands?

“There’s no one else to clean this church so I’ve got to do it when other duties permit, and that’s now. You’ve just entered a huge and beautiful building which is paid for and maintained exclusively by the gifts of our members and supporters FOR FREE so I don’t think you’ve got any reason to complain about the noise.”

As I considered sarcastically offering a full refund of their non-existent admission fee the quiet voice of the welcomer cut through my nonsense: “She said she was glad to see a man doing the Hoovering for once and it had made her day watching you.” And she laughed.

Ooops – collapse of stout party (me). How potentially embarrassing. I really must learn not to leap to conclusions. And hats off to all our welcomers who, day-in, day-out, get it right.

And, speaking of “getting it right” – I should just like to clarify the status of Steve and Paul whom I have previously described as “handymen extraordinaire.” I probably didn’t make it sufficiently clear that they are both time-served: “ecclesiastical craftsmen” (in lead work, glazing and joinery) who also have to do everything else around here as well.

I am more than happy to acknowledge their considerable skills and expertise properly.


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