I know the Royal Mail was sold off cheaply, but it would be nice if a little of the billions flowing in was spent on the service desk at my local sorting office. It’s built rather like a benefit office in a dodgy part of town – bullet proof screens, peeling vinyl floor, big signs about zero tolerance on unacceptable behaviour to the staff. All I want is the letter that I’m not sure I really do want but will have to pay a £1 handling fee to find out. I start to wonder what kind of unsociable behaviour they expect? Are the three British Gas engineers in front of me likely to blow a valve if their parts haven’t arrived? Will the electrician blow a fuse or the car mechanic blow a gasket?
My car’s outside on double yellow lines so I’m also feeling under pressure but there’s only one person serving at the till. The Santa post box makes me smile. Apparently Santa can deliver millions of carefully wrapped parcels all over the world for free, but if you want a reply to your letter you’ve got to include a stamped addressed envelope. That’s cuts for you.
There’s a hold up at the front of the queue – a parcel is damaged and someone wants to see the manager. They’re reluctant to stand to one side to allow others to be served while the manager is fetched. A shiver of tension and excitement runs through the queue – is it a fashion designer who might blow her top, or a surgeon who might burst a blood vessel? We all quite like a scene if we’re audience rather than participants. As my neck begins to crane with everyone else’s I realise I can’t remember if I’ve got my dog collar on, and I don’t want to check in case it makes it obvious. Clergy aren’t supposed to be nosey, or take pleasure in the suffering of others. If I have got it on am I supposed to step in as the peacemaker? But what if she’s an atheist and threatens me with Dawkins? Does the dog collar protect me, or make me more of a target? (Is my dogma firmly on its lead – I doubt it!) If a police officer were here everyone would stand back and let them take charge. Should I call out ‘off duty vicar – everyone stay calm?’ What would Jesus do? I suspect Jesus would tell a story which made us all laugh, but then made us feel foolish and small minded, especially the clergy, at our ridiculous priorities and loss of touch with reality.
The manager came and promised compensation – she was an athlete and they’d broken her record. The British Gas engineers assembled their parts and wished everyone a Merry Christmas. The electrician was sparky and the mechanic idled patiently. I got to the front of the queue, saw the reflection of my dog collar in the window and hesitated. But seeing the postie’s name was Gloria, and catching a twinkle in her eye, I risked ‘This must be your busy time of year’. She winked back – ‘peace on earth and goodwill to all’ – God bless her.
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Ian Bussell, Diocesan Director of Ordinands and Co-ordinator of Curate Training
As I sat in my car in the Close, I watched what appeared to be the full complement of a local primary school crossing in front of me and I reflected upon whether these children fully understood the wonderful heritage to which they were exposed having the cathedral all around them. I wondered whether they were affected by their surroundings; was there a gentle process of osmosis as they probably heard the uplifting music emanating from the Cathedral during a service, or by way of a choir or organ practice.
I am sure many of you reading this will have moved by the nativity plays performed by your children, or in my case, grandchildren – that is, if they are lucky enough to attend a primary school that continues to perform the traditional Christian Rites of Passage. Again, here is another opportunity for our children to be part of our Christian ethos and what a pity there is a move away from these lovely simple productions. Two of my grandchildren were lucky to have performed in their nativity plays in All Saints Church in Cheltenham; a beautiful experience both for adults and children.
Their primary (not C of E) school has lessons on “Philosophy and Ethics” which is, I am sure as everybody knows, the new RE. Those two grandchildren come to me for tea after school on the same day as the aforementioned RE lesson and we have had the most enlightening conversations around the tea-table about the existence of God and the birth of Jesus promoting opportunity for theological discussion. In fact, the two sisters have very different views which provoke lively debate. I cannot tell you the number of times I have wished for the assistance of a friendly cleric to answer some of their questions. I have to resort to the tactic of answering a question with a question to encourage them even further to think for themselves.
And so to Christmas; so often we hear – it’s only for the children, but it isn’t, is it? It’s the time to celebrate the birth of Jesus together as a family and to remember those not as fortunate as ourselves.
Mary Adlard, Chair of Diocesan Board of Finance
At the beginning of another day of work as Chaplain at the University I sat down to eat my cereal while watching Breakfast News, and found two images equally shocking. The first was of the young Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes surrounded by teammates after being felled by a bouncer. The second was of a person being wheeled away on a stretcher from a supermarket after being injured (presumably by other shoppers) in the Black Friday crush. What is going on? We seem to have become a society that has got all its priorities wrong.
As we approach Christmas, what should our values be as a caring community? Surely one human life is far more important than a game or even a bargain. What should be more important: winning a game at all costs and getting a ‘precious’ bargain at the expense of another, or, thinking of others ahead of ourselves?. In the letter to the Philippian church there is a paragraph that carries those very words: ‘in humility consider others better than yourselves’.
It goes on to detail what we celebrate at Christmas, that Jesus Christ, because he considered us (fallen humanity) of such great value, that he took on our human likeness and became a human being – even a fragile baby in a manger. And why did he do that? So that we could be free, free to make choices about how we live, how we value others, may we have His values this Christmastime.
The Revd Bruce Goodwin, Chaplain at the University of Gloucestershire