My first Communion for goodness knows how many years

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Enthusiastic followers of my diary will note that I reported gleefully that I went to church for the first time for years last Sunday and decided to repeat the process today for what turned out to be a combined service with the adjacent parishes. I entered the church at 10 minutes to the hour to find an enthusiastic crowd of about 20 people talking animatedly amongst themselves. And why not say I.  I remember earlier in my life when people came in, knelt and prayed, and there was dead silence.

I sat in my preferred pew which is to the back and to the right to be greeted by a woman behind me who was complaining about her mobile phone, being unable to turn it off. She told me she was on a pay as you go tariff and she did not spend much.  I noticed she wore a hair wig; nothing wrong with that of course. However her enthusiasm to discuss mobile phone tariffs did not engage me as that was not the reason that I came, so I politely terminated the conversation.

As a previous churchgoer of many years – I should confess at this point that I am a vicar’s son-  I can’t help looking through the service sheet or booklet in this case and figuring out how long the whole thing is going to last. Fortunately, the vicar used the sheet as a framework from which he picked the main elements. My concentration span is not very great at the best of times but I’m sure with meditation or possibly with Valium this would be improved but maybe not. Meditation is a form of torture for me  because while I’m supposed to be in the alpha state thinking of love, the universe and everything, I make a list of all the things that I need to do when I finish the meditation and that ruins the whole thing. The rebellious side of me says that I actually enjoy thinking of many things at once. Whether this is productive or not is another question.

There were periodic sighs from the mobile phone lady behind me who also made a noise with her papers. She is very active but I wonder if she is happy. There are so many single women around here who have lost their husbands and let’s face it, Paulton is not the centre of the social universe, though it has a pub and a library with a coffee bar attached. That is certainly better than being stuck in the middle of the country and being a widow and there are many buses to Midsomer Norton nearby so back to our topic of loneliness a couple of days ago.

The service was a combined matins and communion celebration. The gospel was about Jesus turning water into wine as a marriage in Canaan in Galilee. Marriages are for the whole community, the whole village, not just for the bride and groom and invited guests so for the wind to run out as a complete disaster, something which would be used as gossip material for years to come. Guy, the affable vicar, attempted a pun saying it’s a ‘no wine situation’. People did not even groan but everybody forgave him because the topic of wine is of interest to everyone and the possibility of finding a reason to justify our consumption intrigued the congregation in a twisted sort of way.

Jesus performing his miracle – notice the index finger of the right hand

According to information in the Bible, about 454 litres of wine was produced by the miracle turning water into wine, the first that Jesus performed at the wedding in Cana. I note the fact that the event happened in local surroundings and not as it would be in the present day of self-seeking instant fame mentality of someone doing it on TV or inviting the media around. Jesus just did it because it was part of his nature and he wanted to make a point, possibly a symbol of the available of abundance should you believe.

The Old and New Testament warns us against abuse of alcohol but there is slightly amusing episode with St. Peter remonstrated with the crowd who said that the disciples were not drunk as it was only “the third hour of the day”. The disciples were manifesting the joy of the holy spirit. Jews were not supposed to eat or drink until the fourth hour, an hour after their prayer time.

There is plenty to say about wine or shall we say drinking  in the Bible as a whole. “Wine mocks those who use it” as it says in Proverbs, “and rewards them with world, sorrow, strife and wounds without cause. In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a Viper”. Wine was recommended as a substitute for water in the case of medical conditions but that is a weak argument have with the Bible reminding us that our bodies are temples of the living God via the agent of the holy spirit. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy spirit who is in you whom you have received of God?… therefore honour God with your body”.  That is pretty strong stuff I think.

I think the best sort of tonic for depression or stress is a good conversation with someone who cares for you and the benefits of this compared with the effect of alcohol, often consumed in lonely circumstances, causes alcohol to be seen as the charlatan it is. I do admit that alcohol tends to stultifying our powers of reason so in the long-term, moderation or abstinence is probably a good ploy. Anyway, I better stop this Trainer sought before I hang myself.

There were 40 of us in the church of which 32 were congregants, and after some mild misgivings I decided to go up with the rest to receive communion which to remind the non-Christians among my readers consists of taking a wafer which tastes very much like plastic, symbolic of the body of Christ and then some wine, often fruit juice or very weak wine symbolising the blood of Christ. This is a bonding mechanism, or a  blessing shall we say, to remind us that we are part of the body of Christ. Catholics would say that it is a sacrament and becomes with the blessing of the priest the actual blood and body of Jesus. This is possibly going a bit far.

After the service I announced to Guy, the vicar, that I was intending to become a part of the congregation. I also offered my services to read the Gospel partly because the lady who read it currently had difficulty in reading and did not appear to have read the piece beforehand to familiarise herself with it. Please see my diary of yesterday to see further comments on delivery of the written word. She also, bless her, had some difficulty anyway and was unfamiliar with the word grim and said “grime” instead. Only a pedant like me would notice things like that enough to comment; I’m sure no one else noticed.

We had a merry time in  room at the back of the church complete with its own toilet, a serving table and seats which serve as a social area where tea and coffee and on this occasion chocolate rolls were on offer.  Lingering in the pews was a lady called Caroline who was a priest and evidently was due to leave the area to go to Westbury where she had a remix of service to younger people. I immediately detected that she was a ‘people person’ and I did my little campaign about the importance of listening, which I don’t think she needed to hear  because she was a natural listener.

Nevertheless, I don’t think it does any harm to remind people and indeed myself the benefits of just shutting up and letting people speak. Sometimes I find that if I have a problem the only way I can figure out what it is to articulate it and in the process of so doing my mind can work creatively and I see what I’m talking about. I have always said that we have 95% of useful information unprocessed, sitting around in files, and the stimulus of having to say something draws it all together. The brain after all is the ultimate relational database.

Anyway, back to Caroline.  The husband works in Bath so as Westbury is on the train line he will still be able to continue to work for that firm but they have kindly offered to let him work from home on one or two days which in some measure shows the respect in which he is held. There was no question however that he was the more introvert of the two, a more thoughtful and possibly more introspective version and she was the one who bounced around introducing herself to people.  I thought it was a rather nice mix actually.

I returned to Caroline with my cup of coffee to congratulate her in advance that I was strongly convinced that her work would go well, commenting that the area was very friendly and she would make lots of useful contacts, and instead of having a plan, just go there and listen and they will love her for it.

This is our main alternative cinema in Bath. The main one in the area is the Watershed in Bristol, a subsidised affair I think because the prices are lower, but this is the nearest

I’m very happy to report that Guy, the aforementioned vicar, is a film buff. My wife and I would have gone to see ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’, which has been well spoken of, yesterday evening but we had finished all we had to do at four o’clock.

The idea of hanging around for over two hours in the rain until the movie started at 6:30 PM was too much so we will catch it possibly this Wednesday.

As we approached the bus station, we mourned the closing of Jimmy’s, the wonderful buffet restaurant that we have used so often. Evidently they owed £114,000 in business rates to the local authority.

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