Friday, 6 November 2009

A New Minister for Blue Velvet

The story of Blue Velvet parish
last appeared when Janice Capron, the priest's lover, told him to be honest when visiting her husband at the dental surgery. The whole story began back in September.

Leaving Mrs Janice Capron in bed to relax and read, Reverend Alan Peart got himself up and dressed, into mufti, and picked up the post on his way out. He put the pile into a shopping bag to variously open up at the surgery and anywhere else he might stop and pause. He drove the five minutes journey, including getting in the car and parking, to the surgery itself. In he went and checked in with a receptionist.

He opened one letter that seemed interesting. It consisted of a card and an invitation to the installing of a minister in the Unitarian chapel in the centre of town. He noticed no stamp on the envelope. He muttered to himself that he didn't know if the place was even operating, never mind taking on a minister. In addition there was a short note from the new minister, a Rev. Stella Wedgwood, who would be visiting the town on several dates and a mobile phone number if Alan Peart was interested, and the first date of three was this one. He wasn't sure if he would want to or be able to associate with Unitarians, given the need to keep up appearances about his own apparent beliefs and promises.

He was called in by Eugene Capron, husband of Janice, and sat in the seat. "Make yourself comfortable in there. And, em, Jackie can you leave us and call in Maggie instead. I just want Maggie my assistant who has worked with me for a long time. Ah there already. Come in, and Maggie knows that all that we say in here is covered especially by patient confidentiality and indeed commerical confidentiality. You understand all about this."
"Yes, I do. Deal with it all the time," said Reverend Peart, shifting his bottom about in the patient's chair.
"Now er this contraption I am putting into your mouth, a sort of four armed mouth speculum, helps me to keep your mouth open. Just turn these screws. Put some cotton wool in as well behind these teeth. Good, your mouth can stay like that and I think we'll check." This he did, and continued. "Could do a filling now or have an observation."
"But I definitely think we should have a clean. Maggie will suck out the muck and I'll whir and scrape. Off we go.... Now I have a question. Are you, vicar of Blue Velvet, having an affair with my wife?"
"Wi dhat dhing ing your hang?"
"No, with that thing in your trousers. I might need to drill this tooth."
"Ugging hell wha gan I thay?"
"How about the truth, Reverend Peart, something you are supposed to deal in. I have a letter ready to go to your bishop."
"Oh Goh nod din."
"You and he don't get on?"
"I knew ing ah dheologigal golleg."
"Well do you know that I had my son DNA tested? You see, I suspected some sort of infertility - I'll use the handscraper here Maggie, er thank you - and had my son DNA tested. And he doesn't match me. And my wife, well I do know she gets around a bit. After all, what about the postman? I know all about the postman, a very nice chap, but then I did. And there is give and take. And Johhny Levrithe, or 'Milky' as he is known by my wife. But was the child his or indeed his? You see, both of them are my patients, or the milkman was, and I took a swab from each. And neither of them is the biological father. And then there were these rumours, and her mother talks about you, and among a number of people I took your saliva too. And my son is your biological son."
"Yeah, I'we geen hahhin an ahhair wih your wyhh. Ow!"
"For quite a long a long time, I think."
"It gums ang it goes. I gomhorted her when she stott eeing a hundanentalish Grishian. One hing led to anguhher."
"On again, I think."
"I think I will do that tooth. After all, this is the last time you'll be in my surgery. Now I'll do a slow drill so you don't need anaesthetic, and if you feel something put your hand up and I can stop. Maggie, make me up some mixture please."
Alan Peart's hand went up several times. There was quite a lot of sweat running down his face. Handed the filling mixture this was eventually packed into the made hole.
"My wife has a choice," said Eugene Capron. "She either stops seeing you, and we bring up her son as our own, and a letter via your solicitor please explaining you want no part in his upkeep or life for that matter, or we shall have to separate and divorce; and if so, I will want rights of access, and there will be a letter to your Church. I know this is some strange place, that my wife being a local and knowing so many people seeks sexual satisfaction outside this marriage, but I want some honesty, and it is one thing to have that and quite another to try to kid me that my son was mine and there is no one else for her affections. That's all I've asked of her, all I've asked."
"Ca you emowe dhish outh condragshon?"
"No, because I'm just going to use this instrument, Maggie please, thanks, to pack the filling down further. Thank you - here we go." The dentist operated the tool. Again sweat was rolling down the reverend's face, his arm up and down. "Now to unscrew. When I've done it bite your teeth together. What is your decision?" It was removed.
"Yeah, I like her a lot. I see her once more - she could be at my home now - and then will stay clear if she wants what you say," said the freed Reverend.
"Ah. Not quite the right answer. So if she doesn't - how shall you persuade her anyway?"
"Then I'll talk to you, openly. I don't know. I'll persuade her to stay with the family unit."
"If we separate, and divorce, I'll do as I say. And I will settle for nothing less than you out of this parish. I want a decision tonight from her. I waited until today, and asked people what was happening, and I know it died down and it has started up again. Oh and that means, by the way, that you look after your own chickens and keep your cock in its own little home."
"Yeah, I will. What do I owe you?"
"Quite a great deal. For that in money terms, ask the receptionist. Maggie, tell the receptionist."

But on getting back to the vicarage, and physically shaking, Janice there and she heard it all with her own opened mouth. His mouth still felt as if swollen, yet without any injection it should not have such an overhang.
"He does this to people," she said, " - leaving them in," and reached inside his mouth and pulled out cotton wool.
"There is no more us," he said. "You have to go; I'm really really sorry but he is really serious. Your life is with him, and the baby he knows is mine."
"I'll divorce him. He knew what I was like when I married him."
"No! No scandals, no more cover ups. No you have a family now."
"And in three days, it's what?"
"The town ball and parade."
"Yes, where I first met you."
"Yes, I know, he was conceived not long after. But that's that. We've been on and off. Yes, very enjoyable. More on now than ever before. Look, I can have a word with you then. Tell me then, what he says, what you and he says: it will be a moment to meet then. But that's why this must go off again and can't come on again."
"I'm going," she said, "Not to put you in trouble. But I shall put him in trouble. And I'll see you at the ball. I shall come stunning, and he shall put up with it. I'll see to it he does nothing about it, and I'll have my freedom back."
"And for once, I shall go out and do my job. Go and walk around, go and see people. Do what I am paid to do. And please, I'll do the chickens."
"The bastard will not have me like this," said Janice as she made for his front door. "He'll find out about just who he's married."

Deciding to repent for some sins, the priest went walkabout. The principle of this is to get stopped in the street. He didn't like to call on people unawares, as often their houses were in a mess or items were lying about that a 'vicar' ought not to view. He learnt this once when calling unannounced upon local intellectuals Dr Valdamar Pons (46) and Dr Wilhelmena Pons (36). Both were university lecturers, he in history and she in politics, where they had met, and both were known to share some strange views regarding alien landings, which one wouldn't otherwise expect. What he did not know was their strange preferences for art work on the walls, nor their preferred use of the kitchen for activities other than cooking, and thus leaving around commercial and natural devices to this end. So his calling upon them about three years back left them in some panic, leaving him at the door for a few minutes, as he could just about see her taking down paintings and running around to put different ones up. He, when let in, as a sort of reaction, suggested they could sit in the kitchen, which led to another delay, but as they then went through she realised she had not cleared up devices left on seats tucked under the table. Since then gossip, that took some time to generate, had gone around the town that the local intellectuals now kept the innocuous paintings and prints on the wall and only changed them for the particular company that called on set evenings that appreciated them for creating the mood. All he knew was that these two, who were his churchgoers, simply stopped coming. All this happened not so long into his ministry, and he had worried since that he couldn't go around losing people so easily. These two did not have the social connections in the church and town for persuasion to work to bring them back.

So the Reverend Alan Peart walked around, and had several fairly meaningless conversations, but then the impact of such are never really known. He went into one café and the next and the next. There always seemed to be too many, and a number of non-central ones seemed to close and open with regularity. He walked past this small, dark chapel, and then wondered - of course, this must be the Unitarian one. So he took a look around, and found a noticeboard confirming as much but pointing into the narrow alleyway rather than towards the street. There seemed to be an arched single door in behind the noticeboard and a short yard. The notice board held a poster and underneath a piece of paper indicated services first Sunday in the month at 10:30 am and third Sunday in the month at 3 pm. He couldn't see how this would attract any casual visitor. So he moved on and arrived at the next café.

A woman in there approached him, "Are you a local minister of religion?" If she had an accent, it was slightly Welsh. It was certainly not local.
This was an easy and obvious question to answer, given the collar. "I am."
"So would you be Anglican, or perhaps..."
"I am that."
"I put a note through your door. I am Stella Wedgwood. Did you get my note?"
"You are Reverend Stella Wedgwood? Well, hello!"
She was, and approaching 40 years old. She certainly gave no indication of being a Reverend. Indeed she was wearing very casual, as if it was a little warmer outside than it was. She had sunglasses propped above and into her blonde hair, and jeans. Her top had a tendency to fall forward, and that raised another aspect of remembering etiquette from ministry training and later on the job experience. In every case, whatever the situation, look the chesty or revealing woman in the eyes. The college pastoral studies advisor had said this, but he discovered it on a school visit in the staff room when some teachers were discussing female sixth formers in lurid terms. For it was a fact that once liberated from school uniform, sixth formers come in all kinds of dress, and some females like to display plenty of flesh (whatever the time of year). Some teachers changed outward behaviour in the staff room, but during his visit one took him aside and said that, before going in the classrooms, to put all such thoughts utterly away and be nothing but transparently ignorant of all such temptations. Put them into an imagined bin. Always think of adult women, always think of actual relationships. Indeed it was such good advice and well taken that he found himself, just for once, putting all such thoughts in a suggested mental dustbin, and as he looked the students he talked to only in their eyes and their bodies became windows to only see through.
So could he do this now? Unfortunately, with the adults, he never found it so easy. And this woman was a struggle, as she chatted away, leaned forward and he intended eye contact.
"I really don't know anything about the chapel," he said. "We never mention it in our ecumenical prayers, " he admitted, focusing on something holy and good. "I saw your place - strange times for services."
"It's a curse," she said. "That will change. Well, the problem is that they pay people to come in and take services. They also think two different times suits some who like the morning and some who like the afternoon. But when you have around ten people attending, really it is..."
"Yes, unfortunately. But if you look at the congregation, only two of them were there ten years ago. And only five of them are town people."
"Er, so how can they afford you?"
"The Theophilus Blue Trust. Where the Blue comes from in the town's name, the historian here told me. Presbyterian Puritan money. Do you know who owns this café, indeed all the property around here? Do you know who owns property at the Riverfront?"
"Why would the Puritans pay for money for you, a Unitarian?"
"Because the English Presbyterians, who started when you produced your Prayer Book, by and large became Arminians and Unitarians. Oh yes the non-conformists would have grabbed back all the money, but Parliament stopped them in 1845."
"Ten. Well, when you think of the population, I don't suppose ours is much of a percentage. And perhaps you are unknown, and we are known, and possibly, too, don't we overlap with your beliefs now, sort of taking away your constituency."
"You do. But you ordained make the sorts of promises that we don't."
"Now you're making me jealous," he said.
"Well, you know, what do we believe these days? Gosh I was just thinking of them - I mean I don't disbelieve anything that scientists or social scientists think these days, really," he said.
hat scientists or social scientists think these days, really,
" he said.
"But - though it's not the issue it was - you believe the Trinity, the particular Incarnation, the resurrection, in Christianity?" she effectively asked.
"Well, you know. I mean we affirm it."
"So you affirm it, in what sort of way?"
"As a guiding story, I mean no one knows any of this so we just affirm it."
"As opposed to saying, no one knows any of this."
"Well, you do say that occasionally. You say it is important to ask the questions. Look, there are all sorts of methods we use. You study scripture and preach on what scripture says. We get into history, and talk historically. You talk about communities and saints and all that kind of thing. Or you sort of live the life, or at least recommend it. But everyone lives like we live today, thinks like we think. We are not like they were."
"But that's precisely what you are claiming."
"No, I don't. I say we continue on. We look back and we come forward."
She asked him, "Are you Anglo-Catholic?"
"Well some with your views turn out to be Anglo-Catholic. The sort that aren't running off to the Pope."
"Yes I know but I'm not. Either of them really. Well no more than became adopted by most. And do you have tendencies or otherwise?"
"Yes, we do. Some are more liberal Christian. Some will wear collars like you. Few women do, actually. If you think of the sixties and the trend to social dress, an almost secular radicalism, then we - even in ministry - look quite secular. It has its disadvantages. Some aren't Christian in any meaningful sense, some are but look anonymous."
"Ordained but look lay."
"No I'm not ordained: on a roll of ministers. I'd like to be, though. I have a bishop friend in Wales who offered," she said.
"Who's he?"
"She. She's one of these on her own types."
"Ah - episcopi vagantes."
"Sort of. A bit more to it."
"Gosh. So what have you done today?" he asked, wondering if he could be more personal.
"I had a good look around. I visited a few in the congregation, now that I am their new minister. I talked about the service - the congregation plays a part in welcoming me. And about the future. And now I've just had a drink here before wondering whether to drive all the way back to Wales or get a bed and breakfast, like I did when I arrived last night."
"Wales then?"
"I minister there. The Black Spot. Two concentrations you see, south east and south west."
"Oh. I see. The accent isn't obvious. So that'll be the old coal..."
"No, The west. From Aberystwyth south. I was born in England and an infant in Hereford. We went west, young man. But yes I'm bilingual. I sound more Welsh in Welsh."
"Well," he said, taking a liking to this woman and wishing to hear more, "you have no need to either drive home or get a bed and breakfast, because, as you known, Anglican vicarages come at a certain minimum size, and therefore you can come back, chat some more, eat some more if you like, drink more certainly, and thanks to my housekeeper - well was my housekeeper - there is a nicely made room for you."
"That," she said, "is very generous of you. And you as a fellow trustworthy person of the cloth, I will take up your offer."
And as a result he became a passenger in her car outside for the short trip back to the vicarage where she took her bag to her room and where he opened a bottle of wine and cancelled his appearance at a church discussion group meeting due to "urgent business". That was an evening when he learnt all about the Unitarians, her own Methodist upbringing and her arguing with its leaders about beliefs, and that she was and remained single and kept friends in Swansea or Abertawe as she liked to call it. Her petrol bill each year was phenomenal. Plus he just liked the look of her, and in the next morning as she ran to his bathroom he glimpsed through the crack in his slightly open door a body shape rather more than he might through her nightwear, and felt a weight of contradiction again that this ministry in Blue Velvet only seemed to encourage. Plus, as he waved his new friend off, he knew she agreed to come back in just days for househunting and to attend the Annual Ball, via which she, and not least (as a result) her congregation, could enter more into the life of the town.

When she had gone he thought of two things. That there were Puritans that gave the town its original wealth, one of whom had given its the place its revised name, and what would they make of the place now; and that the money he and others made and invested put into his trust now funded a church that believed as precisely opposite what they believed as you could ever achieve.

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