I watched Doctor Who last night.
‘I don’t know where I am!’
Such a familiar feeling.
So now it’s Sunday morning and the wretched clocks have gone forward – depriving me of yet another hour’s sleep. But I’m ready for church. Bathed, coiffed, wearing a bright green linen coat in honour of spring and resurrection. And early.
For the very first time we arrive before the bell starts telling – yes, telling, not tolling – us we’re late. The memory of Friday’s sardine-like experience still vivid in our minds we’re determined to get ‘our usual’ seat.
We end up almost at the front. As the organ pipes up a very large chap squeezes in next to Atheist-man. They’ve run out of hymn books, so the three of us share.
Soon the ushers are directing folk up the stairs, into the gallery above the side door. Standing room only again. Amazing. Utterly amazing.
We’ve sung two hymns, the Gospel’s done and dusted, the sermon well underway when I realise how noisy it is. Thank goodness the church has a sound system. Or maybe not. Maybe that’s why the toddler yelling ‘hiya’ and waving at the priest is quite so audible. He is, after all not far from the microphone, up there in the gallery. The toddler, not the priest.
We stand to renew our baptismal vows. Atheist-man never made them in the first place and is, understandably, silent. Time for a good look around.
We’ve just finished rejecting Satan and all his works when Atheist-man bends and whispers in my ear.
‘It’s a bit squirmy here today, isn’t it?’
It certainly is. And squawky, squeaky and crash-bang-clattery. I can’t help but think the priest looks pained, wincing at times. What a contrast with Friday. Not a peep from anyone. No children, Atheist-man pointed out. I hadn’t noticed, too busy holding my arms close to my side to keep to my personal space – and, more cerebrally, empathising with a man dying a horrific death.
The noise from the gallery increases. The toddler’s been moved to the back but I think he’s now found an echo chamber.
‘A crèche?’ Atheist man suggests.
‘A crache’, I respond, despite myself. The two of us look down and try hard not to snort with laughter. (You had to be there.)
‘My peace . . . ’ says the priest, then pauses ever so slightly and (am I imagining it?) looks up at the gallery before continuing, ‘I leave with you, my peace . . . ’ looks up again. Now I’m squirming.
‘Let us offer each other . . .’ he definitely looks up at the gallery before turning to us all, ‘the sign of peace.’
As the choir sings the chorus from the Messiah – you know the one – I ponder. Is this what English churches would all be like if Henry VIII had been gay? Or monogamous? I mean, setting aside the Lutheran reformation, Puritans, etc. After all, Spain and France remained Catholic.
Would all those beautiful Anglican churches (feels envy, a sin) that once were Popish be full to bursting? Pulsating with glorious music, with people singing and raising their voices, overjoyed that Christ has ‘a-risen, a-risen, ari- -i-i- -i-i-i- i-i-i- isen’?
I shift to a parallel universe. The sun is shining. England is Catholic. The Queen’s just a Queen. The crosses in small town centres are not all war memorials. Statues of the Blessed Virgin adorn many a flowery bower.
Back in my home dimension, Mass draws to a close. The good Monsignor tells the children to claim an Easter egg from the altar servers as they leave, then he hesitates, looks around wickedly (not really, obvs) and says, ‘but I saw them first’.
Nice one, Monsignor.
Oh, by the way, Atheist man says you can feel joy at the arrival of Easter Sunday without believing in God. Something to do with ‘the last one for a week’.
Well he did start this.
Happy Easter Week, everyone.