You know what it’s like, I’d just go for a walk, nothing special, just round and about. But it meant that I somehow misplaced so much time chatting to people that I had to change my route which in turn led me into chatting to another couple of people. And one of the interesting things about being a churchwarden is the questions people ask you.
OK so some of it is technical stuff about when the sheep are going back into the churchyard to keep the grass down. But a lot of it is far deeper than that.
We had a couple of funerals. An elderly couple, the husband died and the day after the funeral they found the widow dead. It was sad, they’d no family, their son had died years ago and the husband had already been buried with him. They had good friends and kind neighbours but they’d lived for each other for over sixty years and she didn’t want to go on. They found her drowned in the dock.
So then it’s her funeral. If anything she got more people than her husband, and it was tough because they felt guilty. It’s that nagging question, “What could I have done?” Frankly they couldn’t really have done any more; her community had supported her as much as they could without trespassing on her dignity and independence.
And then at the end of funeral somebody comes up to me and asks if she’ll go to heaven, what with suicide and stuff.
So I just looked at him and explained gently, “I’m sorry, I’m just the churchwarden, you really want to speak to him at the front, he decides these things.”
“Oh, you mean the Vicar?”
“No, I mean the chap nailed to a cross on the stained glass windows. He’s the one who decides that sort of thing; it’s above my pay grade.”
And then today I get asked whether I approve of Gay marriage in church! I’m sitting on a roadside bench dressed in my working clothes with wellies and flat cap. Now it might be that this is the standard garb of the working theologian, in which case it’s an obvious mistake to make.
So we discussed the matter. I explained that various denominations had had a problem with ordaining women. I coped with this by just listened to him at the front. He said, and I briefly paraphrase, “A good tree can’t bear bad fruit. And a bad tree can’t bear good fruit…………You can tell each tree by its fruit.”
So I just watched those women I knew in the ministry and looked at what came of it. Well it was pretty obvious that they were doing what they were supposed to be doing so I wasn’t going to get in the way. Same with gay clergy, it’s just the case of having the humility to shut up and watch what’s going on.
Well the chap I was talking to seemed to think that this was sensible, but didn’t cover gay marriage.
So I asked him what he was, what summed him up? He thought a bit and said, “I think I’m a walker.” He looked to the lady who was with him for confirmation and she agreed.
So I said, “So you don’t define yourself by your heterosexuality?”
I’m afraid that for me, the first question to a wedding couple should be ‘who are you, what sums you up?” I’d hope that they would answer that they’re Christians, rather than telling me their sexuality.
You see, if they’re Christians, part of the Church, part of the community, known for the work they do and the help they give, then it’s obvious that they’ll want to marry in their parish church and I think that the parish, knowing them and loving and respecting them for what they do, will want them to be there.
But if they’re just a couple who want a pretty building so that they get ‘better’ wedding photos, why on earth are they bothering with a wedding service where they make vows in the sight of a God they don’t show any signs of believing in?
Anyway I think the couple liked the argument, the lady gave me a Werther’s Original