Thursday, 19 March 2015

Life at St Arsenius’s: A Short, Incomplete Story about a Village PCC

Back in October 2014, when I started Sacred Wrightings, I wrote what was intended to be the first instalment of a satire on life in the Church of England. Thing is, I can’t remember why I decided to do this, or what point, if any, I was trying to make. All I know is that the story’s provisional title was ‘The Church, Colonised’. Anyway, I thought I’d post this first instalment; there’s not likely to be a second.

The Parish Church of St Arsenius the Great was a sleepy country parish church no more. The Meadowfield Estate, approaching its fourth year as a village appendage, had sent its representatives to worship in the thirteenth-century building, constructed on a largish, flattish rock in the middle of previously gassy marshland. With its extra members, the attendance at an average Sunday morning service had increased in three years from a respectable twenty members (including Arthur, Mrs O’ Sullivan’s elderly dachshund) to a commendable sixty-seven regulars. But the Priest-in-Charge, the Revd Alvin Carpenter, though pleased with the growth, was now facing the possibility that St Arsenius’s could not accommodate any further expansion. The pews were full nearly every Sunday, and latecomers very often had to prop themselves against the walls or perch on fairly uncomfortable moulded plastic seats usually reserved for games of musical chairs at the annual kids’ Christmas party.

Mr Carpenter decided that, in addition to the Sunday morning service, he would seek to initiate and lead a regular non-Communion evening service. The Meadowfield Estate was home to a significant number of single persons and couples who commuted to the nearby towns, and he thought that a Sunday evening service would suit these ambitious, enterprising twenty- and thirtysomethings perfectly. He would also experiment with his services a little more, too. Sunday morning’s norm was to follow Common Worship: Holy Communion, Order One, a cordial of conventional hymnody and the occasional modern (1980s) worship song diluted by the spoken confession, absolution, and so on. But, Mr Carpenter fantasised, in the evening service, he could drag St Arsenius’s into the present – well, certainly into the early noughties – and, following an extended worship time, preach hard-hitting but emotionally sensitive sermons that, by the power of the Holy Spirit (of course), would cause the worshippers to reflect inwardly and commit themselves anew to the Lord on a weekly basis. When Mr Carpenter projected his vision via PowerPoint to the St Arsenius PCC, a minor miracle occurred: the PCC members agreed unanimously to his liturgical reforms.

“About time!” muttered Major Talbot, a former churchwarden and Deanery Synod representative, who lived, along with his wife and macaw, in a quaint English country cottage in the oldest part of the village. He addressed the rest of the PCC. “It’s wonderful that we have so many new people coming here now, but most of them do not seem to appreciate the need for reverence. They sit there, playing with their tablets and their smartphones, letting their children run around and shriek, dropping the pew Bibles, not standing for the Gospel reading . . . well, I’m happy that we have so many new people – and I think Geoff and Sue make wonderful cakes – but I’m sure the rest of them would appreciate going to another service so they can do things more, ah – ah – more loudly.”

There was a tense silence. Major Talbot, a retired military cliché, was known for his often-strong commentary on all things ecclesial, from the alcohol content of Communion wine to the desirability of women bishops. But this previously unexpressed stance on the church demographic was unexpectedly barbed. The Revd Alvin Carpenter cleared his throat, preparing gently to respond. “Tim,” he began, his voice a balm. “Tim –”

“Tim, do you really believe that?” Miss Wilson, a single parent from the Meadowfield Estate, interjected. “Do you really believe that I, and all the other thirty or forty or so people who live near me, would be happier in a louder service? Do you really want to banish us from the ten-thirty? Even though half of us couldn’t make an evening service because we’d need to get our kids to bed at a sensible time? I’m all for having an evening service, but you can’t force me or anyone else to go to it!”

“I don’t think the children are that loud, Tim,” said Janetha Bowyer, calmly. “It’s true they can be a little rambunctious if the services go on for too long. But most of them go off to Sunday School, and it’s only the babies who stay in the services – and you can’t blame a baby for being noisy!”

“I’m simply saying that I think the majority of the new people would be better off going to a service that’s more suitable for them,” Major Talbot defended himself. “If I were fifty years younger, I dare say I’d prefer a service where I can wave my arms about singing pop songs. And that’s all I’m saying. I’m not saying that everyone would prefer an evening service, and I certainly wouldn’t force anyone to go to it; but I’m glad Alvin wants to start one so that people have the option.”

“Yeah, so that people have the option to leave the older folk alone and get on with business as usual without being disturbed by babies crying and toddlers screeching,” Miss Wilson said, bitterly. “It’s nice to know that we Meadowfielders still have a place here among you long-termers.”

“Let’s calm ourselves,” Mr Carpenter advised. “Everyone here has a right to express an opinion, even if that opinion proves not to be very popular. It seems to me that, for whatever reasons, we all agree that an evening service should go ahead. What I’ll do is to plan some dates when these services will happen and get out some publicity to Meadowfield.” He turned to Miss Wilson. “Estelle, would you be happy to help me pop some leaflets through all the doors nearer the time?” Miss Wilson nodded, and the PCC moved to discuss the next item on the agenda, redesigning the St Arsenius notice sheet, a matter sure to generate even more ire than the proposed evening services.


  1. Awesome, Terry - it puts me in mind of an ecclesiastical version of 'The Casual Vacancy', sans the sex and swearing (well, so far at least - who knows what might develop in your next instalment?). With a bit of 'Rev' thrown in perhaps. I look forward to a 3-part mini-series on the BBC very soon, starring Michael Gambon as Major Talbot...

    And seriously, yay for creative writing. :)

    1. I really doubt I'll follow this up in any way, but you're the second person so far who thinks I should! I might put some swearing and sex in it. . .

  2. Reminds me of the book by Adrian Plass: 'Looking Good, Being Bad: The Subtle Art of Churchmanship' o_O

    1. I've not read that one. . . might pick it up. I used to like reading Adrian Plass.