Well I made it to the dedication ceremony at the old church on the banks of the Severn yesterday, and half of the village was there, plus the delightful old couple who commissioned me to do the repairs on their ancestor's wall-plaques.
I was immediately presented with an order of service, plus a genealogical tree which began in 1666 - the year of the Great Fire of London. A brief scan of it told me that pretty much everyone in the village was related to everyone else. The in-breeding in that part of remote Gloucestershire - cut off by the horse-shoe estuary as it is - is simply staggering. I was introduced to cousin after cousin, but I refrained from counting their fingers as I shook hands.
This church is a Anglican High church, so the ceremony was almost identical to a Catholic one, save for the use of English over latin, and that no incense was lit. ("Oi, vicar - yer hand bag's on fire").
Halloween is, of course, the celebration of All Saints day, when the Cloud of Witnesses are revered and asked for a little more assistance, so the service focussed on them, with a very interesting sermon by a guest preacher who was a woman priest, She even managed to get in a bit of Pope-bashing, which was amusing.
The priest began the service with a ritualised welcome which the congregation responded to as directed by the order of service - something like: "Nice to see you" , "You too, vicar". In the gap between his welcome and the response, a man standing in the pew directly in front of me let off an extremely loud fart, and his wife gave him a hard stare, probably to let everyone else know that it was not her. I was speaking to a young girlfriend of mine who was brought up a Catholic last night, and she told me that she always timed her farts to coincide with the response, so this man must have got it wrong, despite years more practice.
The service was extremely long, and toward the end, the vicar (a bright-eyed, rather mischievous looking man of about my age) walked down to the end of the church where the memorials are, followed by a host of blue-clad, angelic girls holding candles, and introduced me to the congregation, telling them they could ask me questions later. He then re-dedicated the plaques, blessing me at the same time.
This is the first time my work has been blessed by a priest (as far as I know) and I wonder what effect it is going to have on my future career. It's too early to tell at the moment, as I think these spells take a while to mature, but I'll keep you posted. It might be too late, as I think I've only got about 10 years of good work left in me, but let's hope for the best. God works in mysterious ways.
The end of the service was marked by the taking of communion, when the priest fed everyone with a little piece of wafer, washed down with a drop of wine. I leant over to my host and whispered to her, "I don't think I'll do this bit - it might spoil my lunch", and she seemed to take me seriously by vigorously agreeing with me.
We all then fell on the plates of nibbles laid out by my hosts, and only me and another couple touched any of the wine, the rest of them had tea and coffee. I was introduced to what can only be the 'squire' of the village and his wife, and I knew this to be the case, as they had the same name as the village - the village was named after them, or vice versa, many hundreds of years ago.
He was a lovely, oldish man with a wicked sense of humour, and an accent which was almost Irish. It is impossible - due to all the interbreeding - to tell who is nobility and who is of farmer stock in that place, but I think the two overlap to such a degree that these distinctions become meaningless. This makes for a great sense of equality and comradeship in that little community - something I feel quite envious of, living in an impersonal city as I do. I think if I lived there, I would have to become part of the church life, just to feel like part of the community.
At one point, the verger tried to brush past us, carrying the two communion chalices to be washed, after about 50 people had taken a sip from them. The squire recoiled in horror like a theatrical Dracula, shouting, "Look out! Germs! Germs!"
After we left the church, the couple, one of the cousins (a local sheep farmer) and I went to a famous fish restaurant on the banks of the Severn, where they treated me to lunch. I had the most expensive fish and chips I have ever eaten - about £20. Apparently, this place was founded by the Roux brothers. The scenery around there has to be some of the most beautiful in England, and if I had a camera, you would have been treated to another 'Autumn' post.
The conversation over lunch flitted bizarrely between various subjects, including drug-dealers and the importance of not sitting next to someone on a plane who is carrying a Peregrine Falcon. Evidently my host had on numerous occasions, whilst flying Arab Emirates.
His wife said that it was almost as bad as when you take a parrot on board an aircraft. I asked if she actually had taken a parrot onto an airliner, and she said, "Oh yes. Many times, when I was working in South America!"