The story resumes...
In the days approaching the Annual Ball, there was much for the churchpeople to plan, along with others in the town. The Ball was the one, big, evangelistic event in Blue Velvet that brought in all those cast numbers of especially younger people and people who thought they were that never darkened the doors of the church. The Church itself held a 6 pm special service that specifically said to, especially the females, to come in their show-off dresses. This service was often the ultimate in Fresh Expressions. After this the people would spend about two hours in the local pubs, and then all would gather in the church hall (it had been other halls in its history) in various states of intoxication for the eats, more drinks and the parade. Usually something controversial would happen to feed the gossip for months, and some people would start preparing with months in advance. This was, in essence, the annual fetility parade, and many in the town could say that their marriages began at the Ball.
Such was so for Mrs Janet Ward (62) and Mr Peter Ward now (71) back in the ball's history. It started with Mr Ward admiring her costume, which - as she pointed out to Reverend Alan Peart (51) - was of a different time than now. "My daughter is very unhappy," she said of Janice to him. "Have you had an argument?"
"I have not. I cannot speak about her family relationships," said the Reverend, trying to stonewall.
"She is coming to the Ball, and she is worried about everything. She said she can't even come and see your chickens at the moment."
"Well, all I can say, Janet, is that I am not stopping her. But I advise you to let them sort it out. It would be good to see Janice at the Ball," he said, adding, "and Eugene too," feeling a cough coming on.
Although the Ball had more recent origins, it was the duty the day before to place and give prayers to the town centre maypole. From the point it is inserted, children and older ones would dance with it. And every year vandals would see that it needed repairing, some of the fundraising going towards that.
It was the evening before the event, and Alan Peart arrived back at the vicarage tired from assisting getting all the extra chairs out and into the church. For in that service some three hundred or more attended. That's still a very low proportion of the town, but then some who dressed up and circulated the pubs didn't even come to the church hall event afterwards. Cones were being set up to prevent parking, and some streets were closed at critical points to prevent driving through. Some decorations had appeared too - in the Mediterranean this might have been some sort of festival to the Virgin Mary, but here it was quite the opposite. The figures displayed were about fertility and definitely not virginity.
He looked at his sermon for the service. Although it was only ten minutes long, he had spent extra time doing some research for it, given that his new friend, the new Unitarian Minister, Stella Wedgwood was coming to stay over very shortly, and he wanted more historical detail. So the sermon as prepared talked about past Pagan festival memories, but really the town council in the 1920s began their own version of the bright young things and a passing out parade, so that the girls could find some boys after the losses of the First World War - and brighten things up. The church also experienced a boom in Christenings a few months before the ball, and an upward blip was still the case to this day. He added into his sermon that in this day of Civil Partnerships the girls might meet the girls, and he noted how the boys themselves last year turned up on this night in their own smartest gear - something that did happen but wasn't so prominent or noticed in the past, both to get the girls and perhaps, these days, for a few, the boys. And as for connecting this to Christianity, he made a reference to the lightening of some get togethers but the wine getting better later, in what happens between some individuals later on, like Mr and Mrs Ward. So this seemed in keeping with the event and the place.
But then there was a call by telephone from the bishop.
"It's the Right Reverend Neville Timothy Williams here," said the 51 year old.
"The Reverend Alan Peart here," he replied to copy, with a sigh.
"The festival. I shall be present, and I shall preach the sermon on family values."
"I've just written the sermon, and family values straight up might misjudge the mood."
"We always uphold family values, don't we? Don't we?"
"We always do."
"I am worried about Blue Velvet and your priest-in-charge ministry. You are there as my representative, as you know. I think it is time we started keeping up appearances."
"I try to keep up appearances."
"Now, a certain dental worker has been in touch with me. Apparently it is not only bishops who have secret children."
"Have any bishops had secret children?" asked Alan Peart, starting to go white.
"In the news, yes, at times, over time. Ireland is a speciality among the Roman brethren. We don't want this sort of thing."
"Down with this sort of thing," said a shaking Alan Peart.
"Indeed, keeping this sort of thing down," said Bishop Neville, a one time training colleague in the same theological college as this priest. "The dental worker tells me that another dental worker has to keep this private, but the ways of the jungle telegraph are many and varied, are they not. A certain dentist has a child who isn't his child by a woman who keeps your chickens."
"She keeps them no more."
"Now I want to talk to you about this."
At this point the doorbell rang, and Alan Peart said he had to let the person in. There, stood at the door, was Stella Wedgwood with a beaming smile and she was quite eager with the two cheeks kiss French style. He said about the phone call, of letting herself in, and thus she brought her own bags to the hallway at the front door as he had returned to the telephone.
"Yes, you were saying."
"Mrs Capron is married," said Bishop Neville, "to the dentist, and I took it upon myself to contact the dentist and ask about his welfare, his family, his wife."
"That was very decent of you," said Alan Peart.
"You know, he did not mention his child and you being the biological father. This is incredibly brave, even honourable of him."
"It is. He threatened me with my jaw open. He drilled a tooth without an anaesthetic."
"I'd have pulled your fucking teeth out one by one," said the bishop.
"Right, yes; you would yes."
"So you shall welcome me tomorrow; I shall preach, and I shall stay and watch the proceedings for as long as I care. And as for your future, I think you can say it all depends. Goodbye."
The dialling tone appeared. "You total shit," said Alan Peart, as Stella Wedgwood stood at the study door.
"Oh dear," she said.
"The bishop," he said. "He was a creep then but he was OK enough at theological college, and he has become a total shit since his elevation."
"He was a tutor?"
"No, no, he was training when I was training. Fast track sort of man. It's not jealousy, really - he really is a shit. He has just let power go to his head. So all my sermon preparation and goodness knows what else has gone to waste."
"Can I stay an extra day, afterwards?"
"Yes. You know that Blue money? You don't have any more for a second minister do you?"
"Yes, there is actually. Might have a development minister for the region, like advertise. Could be lay or minister. Come out of that money, yes. And can I stay?"
"Yes, of course, certainly. Glad of the company. Especially with that twit coming. Hope we can be good friends when you do move in to the town, find a house."
"You're finding all this rather sterile. What's happened?"
"Well, embarrassing. Really. He found out, like bloody lightning he's found out. I've just stopped having - it was an affair. She is full of energy, delightful, wonderful, but she is married. Married with a difference. Well. Her own husband knows she has been with at least two other men, even approved it, sort of. Well, humm, one is the retired postman, and he is the father of at least twenty children in this town, with five more of his own with his own wife. But Johnny Levrithe is a known local phenomenon. He still delivers the milk. She calls him Milky. There are at least 50 of his throughout the town, and some are pregnant now and others I meet who are adults and some know and most don't. Anyone who does genealogy in this town is on to a fake. Funnily enough, with both she uses protection. But her history and mine we didn't, and I've always know their child was mine."
"You're lonely," said the visitor.
"I suppose I am, really. Well, lots of people around, and the only friends I have are my apparent wife and her partner."
"You told me. And the forest starts there."
"Southern end of hers, yes. Why?"
"I want to go there. Day after tomorrow, and you come. Look, we all have secrets. I haven't told you my secrets, or secrets beyond - like why would I?"
"Well, there is a meeting shortly, the Committee and last minute things. Sit in on it. We've got a new innovation for the girls this year, the Properly Fitting Bra contest. This Bravado firm that sells all that stuff is sending a representative. So some of ours will be getting some good advice as well as it being one of the events of the day. And they will be selling. But you see they are providing some support of the financial kind for the evening, so it all rather works well. We have the final list of participants, I think. Oh and some of those lasses have a real father in our roaming milk deliverer."
"I'm afraid I'd not win that competition. And presumably the winner gets..."
"Well, it's all publicity. And that's the other thing. The reporters are coming, live radio and television recording. I've told them, it's a great evangelistic opportunity. Now while I still retain some enthusiasm and some control, can you be in the procession for the service? You said you don't wear a clerical..."
"I have one and the last time I wore it and the blouse was over a year ago and I have it for events like this, and I thought, umm it's possible. So I anticipated..."
"Brilliant. Gown - robes? I can lend them."
"I brought a black and a thick white one and a green and gold stole."
"No, full colour. Do the works."
"You will have to do that then," she said. "Hope they'll fit."
"They'll fit you. You're quite tall."
There were clearly over three hundred people gathering in the church (though there were many more people already gathering in the streets that had been closed earlier by the police). The organist had started playing long before she usually did, and the choir that might make half the congregation on an ordinary evening was getting robed.
On the front pew was the Member of Parliament, Sheila Stone, Conservative (39), and local council dignitaries. In the vestry sat Reverends Peart and Wedgwood, and the Methodist Reverend John Cowgill, 64, in a preaching gown. In came Reverend Julia Peart. "No bishop as yet," said Alan Peart, "and John Jones is looking out for him. Also - oh."
"Sorry I'm late, well I'm not late," said Reverend Sammy Kuhn (35), the priest from Great Velvet. "I really would prefer not to process," he said.
"Well we do this here," said Alan Peart. "Nothing major really. The bishop does, and he's coming."
"I'll wear the white robe and rope and that is it," he said. He then went to the vestry door to look down the church at the numbers gathering. "I think we do better than this on a normal Sunday."
Stella Wedgwood asked, whispering into Alan Peart's ear, "How come he's not dressing up like you and not wanting to process, and the Methodist isn't, but I am?"
"Because," he whispered back, "he is a loony Protestant. He's come here only to go back to his church and preach on a den of iniquity. But he has to be noticed. And Methodists don't."
"The bishop," said Sammy Kuhn. "A good man, very good man. Somebody's bringing a large cabinet behind him. Well I wonder what that's for. I'm looking forward to him preaching on family values... Hello Bishop Neville, wonderful to see you again. I'll take the crook and mitre oh and these blades." The two blades, with handles across the ends larger on one side than the metal jutting out were put down, but he held on to the mitre and crook.
"Hello Samuel. Mr Peart, is everything ready as I would wish it?" asked Bishop N. T. Williams.
"It is all for you, sir," said Reverend Kuhn.
"Good. Right. Julia, properly robed?"
"Are we all?" she asked back' with some sympathy for Stella's view (and had good enough hearing to hear).
"We are. Samuel is quite right you know with his simplicity here, but there we go. Must be flexible," the bishop said. "I need a slim girl, pretty girl, plenty there I see, from the congregation. Now you are the local Methodist right, er, if I remember, Mr...?" said the bishop looking around."
"Cowgill, Superintendent Minister."
"Can you find me a slim someone female?" The Methodist looked vacant and then went out. "And I haven't had the pleasure," said the bishop to Stella Wedgwood.
"Reverend Stella Wedgwood."
"Currently South Wales, soon to be Minister in this town."
"The Unitarian chapel."
"The Unitarian chapel."
"Is there one?"
"Yes. It is in this town. Blue Velvet. The name 'Blue' comes from Theophilus Blue, the benefactor of that very chapel."
"Some sort of Unitarian was he?"
"He was a Puritan."
"So what has he got to do with you?"
"Same chapel - religious history. Over 300 years ago."
"Alan Peart, can you just step out? Excuse me miss," said the bishop, causing her to pull a face as the bishop turned away.
Julia whispered into Stella's ear, "Nothing surprises me about him."
Standing outside the vestry the bishop asked, "What is she doing here?"
"She is a new minister in this town."
"She is Unitarian, apparently."
"How do you know?"
"I bumped into her in the street."
"You do that do you?" The Methodist minister arrived back with a young woman with a thin bare middle, who was a model for local photographers. "Excellent, right height too. Hello miss, can you go in there?"
"I was wearing a clerical collar. She collared me," said Alan Peart, resuming the conversation.
"We don't do Unitarians," said the bishop back with Alan Peart alone.
"Shall I tell her to disrobe and go and sit down? Perhaps she can go in your box."
"Too fat for my box. And don't be clever. Do other people know she is a Unitarian?"
"No. I don't suppose so. Other than the Unitarians probably in this congregation."
"You know, Mr. Peart, this is getting worse and worse. Is she taking any part in this service?"
"This really is getting worse. No, this is not going to happen."
"Lay people give readings," said the priest.
"Christian lay people," replied the bishop.
"Do you know what they believe?"
"Formally, yes. Look, they can believe the world is flat and spiky for all I care. Next time you consult me. It's only because we are a charitable people that I'll do nothing now and let this go, but it's just another example. I take the initiatives here, not you. You are my representative. We are going to have to thrash this out."
"OK. Yes well yes but, er, don't forget to put your microphone in, but leave it off until you speak."
"Oh yes that. Now let's go back in before we come out again. I have a nice young lady to speak with." So they went in to a more crowded vestry as some servers also arrived. "Well it's very nice to meet you, Reverend Susan is it, what was it?" asked Neville Williams.
"Reverend Stella Wedgwood," said Stella Wedgwood.
"Well I hope you enjoy our Christian worship."
"Quite a unique experience I'm sure."
"I'm sure it will be. Wholesome, though. Now what is your name, young lady?"
"Jenny. All you have to do is get in the cabinet when I ask. When I shut the door, keep your head in the hole, your hand out of the hole, but twist your body around. These blades will miss you but suck in a bit. When I take them out, turn around again. Now are we all ready?" asked the Bishop. "Servers take the Bible now. Go go. And so the rest of us, let us go and take positions behind the choir and to process! Oh hang on. Samuel of course. Good, thank you Samuel. How are you? We need to have a chat I'm sure. Putting the mitre on, crook. Oh, er Susan..."
"Yes, take these blades and put them behind the box if you would be so kind. Hold them to conceal the long handles please. Secrets, secrets!"
Samuel spoke. "I'm fine, bishop, by the way. We are going to extend the car park. Collections for it raised the money in two goes. And other times we can charge users with the meter and clamps."
"Sorry, Samuel, what did I say?" asked the bishop.
"Microphone, bishop," said Reverend Peart. So he clipped it on and concealed the rest behind the gown.
"Oh good Samuel, yes, good to hear of progress. Well Christians! Oh, and one other. Let's go!"
"What do I do?" asked Jenny.
"Ah, sit in the choir stalls, let the choir in when they come, I'll ask for you."
"Do I get paid?" she asked.
"The magic secret. Worth some money," said the bishop. "The experience. Come behind us. Right, we really all must go."
After hymns, liturgical elements, and readings, with this three doored box facing the congregation, the bishop ascended the pulpit. Looking down from the pulpit had never seen a congregation like it. It was like a fashion parade on the south coast of Spain in summer, and some must be on the beach, all very consistent with his one assistant, still on the edge of the choir stalls and largely hidden from view.
"Michael Faraday," said Bishop Neville, "is a sort of grandfather of electricity and, in a funny kind of way, family values. Can anybody think why? Well electricity is natural but we harness it, and in order to harness it successfully we have gone to one of the most natural of connections. It is the plug and the socket. The plug has pins that jut out, erect and firm, and the socket has holes that are springy and welcoming. And it works, and works very well. And this is why the Church is having so much controversy at present, because of the novelty of trying to transmit the electricity of love when a socket meets a socket or a plug meets a plug. Somehow it does not work as well. But then there is something else, isn't there. Although plugs and sockets are interchangable, don't we have favourite places for our household items? The televisions don't tend to move around; the Hi fi doesn't, so many sockets welcome, get used to, the same plug. We know there are exceptions, but in general another aspect of our normal, natural world, is that the socket welcomes the same plug. Indeed, some of us forget to take them out. And if I was a Roman Catholic I would point out that some plugs come with their appliances now with little plastic protectors on. How many of us forget to take them off before trying to put the plug into the socket? They don't fit. So in a way, the Roman Catholics are right. The metal touches the metal, and the current flows."
Alan Peart leant over to Stella Wedgwood and said, "My computer has five plugs going into a multiple extension socket."
"You're a dirty old clergyman then," said Stella. "But mine's the same." Stella leaned over to Julia, "He's just said about his extension lead and many plugs."
"He's a twat," said Julia. "I mean him, preaching."
"Now," said the bishop, "have you ever noticed that it is often when you move or disturb electrical items that they go wrong. They somehow like to be where they are left. They develop a relationship where they are. Or perhaps some foreign body gets in, like water or dust. Then things can go wrong. Are we not asking for some relationship in our own lives, some stability, and not the kind of transience that can lead our delicate electronics also to go wrong. Nevertheless, that current that flows is vital for us all, and be under no illusions. Although the Bible contains nothing about the harnessed flow of electricity through wires, it contains many a reference about lightening. And so I come to the gospel reading today, particularly where it states at Luke 9:29: 'As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.'
Julia whispered to Stella, "Luke 10:18: 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.'
"Thus," said the Bishop, "Jesus was transfigured just as, when we look at our devices, that tamed lightening flash brings these amzing devices into new life, that new life we see in Christ transfigured, a Christ heavenly that reminds us how important he is in the creation. And so I am going to come down from this pulpit and ask for my assistant to join me, to teach a little bit of Christian doctrine to you folks gathered here. This is Julia I believe..."
"Well Jenny is going to get in this box." He fumbled and put his microphone off. "Remember, face the front, only twist around and back when out of sight." He reconnected with the church speakers. "Now the top door here represents the Father, and Jenny will put her head through the hole as I close it. And now Jenny put your hand through that hole as I close the middle door, that is the Son. That is it - and hold this hankerchief. Hang on, here it is. Don't worry, I haven't used it. And at the bottom is the Holy Spirit, and we close that up completely. There we are. And then, from behind here, here we go, some blades. Pushing one in now between the Father and the Son... And - have to push hard - between the Son and the Holy Spirit. But look, despite this, the Father is still smiling at us! But look, now I remove the middle section right to the side. Yes, and keep waving that hand. The Son is still with us. But this gap. If we have this gap, then the Holy Spirit seems unconnected to the Son. And that surely won't do. This is our objection with the Orthodox Churches that do not observe the Filioque clause, that means 'From the Son', and eventhe last two Popes have recited the Creed without the Filioque clause when with the Orthodox. Immediately after this sermon we shall recite the Creed, and that means all of us" - he turned and looked at Stella Wedgwood - "with the Filioque clause. Without it, the Orthodox might not, but the Western Church might claim too much for the Holy Spirit and innovation. Keeping the Son as one source of the Holy Spirit keeps our electricity transmitting in a known and regular way for us in the Western Churches. So I had better put Jenny back together again. I push the middle back in, and remove these blades... and open Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and - ready? - Jenny should be just as she was when she went in... Yes there she is. Isn't that fantastic? We have the Trinity there and its full relationship. Thank you very much Jenny - if you can go and join your folks."
The audience started clapping as she walked down the aisle.
"So let your lives and your long term relationships be transformed in the light of Christ in the Holy Trinity, Amen. And now of course we say the Creed, in the way that we do."
Stella Wedgwood stood with the rest but remained silent.
And so the bishop presided at the communion at which the announcement went out that people who took communion in other trinitarian churches could take communion here. Others might have a blessing. A huge crowd queued and took communion, many of whom never attended a service, except this one, in any church at all, nor were members in any. The one person who did not, nor went to the rail, was Stella Wedgwood.
With the service over, the festivities could commence, at least those for the Church Hall, as there had been and were many more people outside in the streets and in the pubs, some of whom would not start to come in.
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