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