Wednesday, December 29, 2010


On returning from the “Midnight Mass” I engage with my personal ritual of over twenty five years in pouring a glass of Calvados and sitting in a comfortable armchair before the Christmas tree, allowing my thoughts to wander. It’s odd how the reflections change from year to year. Last year and the year before they were melancholic in nature; this year they were vivid in their detail, and nostalgic.

Perhaps it was due to a surfeit of Charles Dickens, but I had flashbacks to many Christmas Eves long, long ago. Tucked up early in a warm bed in an otherwise frigid bedroom in Himbleton Vicarage. Only the downstairs rooms had any form of heat, and even though my room was above the kitchen (and the magnificent Rayburn stove) it was never warm in winter. Then parading with my siblings in St. Stephen’s Vicarage, wearing dressing gowns and holding embroidered pillow cases in anticipation of Father Christmas’ visit that night. The bedtime parade was always at the foot of that enormous staircase which joined the hall to a small landing, and then continued up some more. It was a ritual always filmed by my father – enjoyable as an eleven-year-old, but so embarrassing as a teenager. Funny how attitudes change within just a couple of years.

My late teenage years hold no significant Christmas memories, and neither did my “twenties” – except that each Christmas was traditional and always enjoyable. Normal is a good word. Growing up in a normal family environment. The memories would return many years later when I was ordained in 1986. Then, in a parish in the West of England, Christmas Eve (and the long line of carol services that preceded it) was quite an exhausting affair. Many, many home communions; a children’s service; a Midnight Mass. Then up on Christmas morning for a 7.00 a.m. mass, and 8.00 a.m. repeat and the large and well attended Parish Eucharist mid-morning. Of course as the newly-ordained curate I would have to attend each one! At the end of Christmas morning I would load my car with presents and drive two hours to my parents’ house in Worcester – just in time for a heavy lunch. Often I was asleep in the chair mid-afternoon!

Life is simpler now, with just one service on Christmas morning. No wonder the memories are easier to recall. As I sit before the splendid tree, I toast all others who do the same.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Familiar Tale

In my recent post I made reference to the Ghost of Christmas Past, which, of course, is a principal visitor in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." It was almost deliberate, in that I am reading that short story in few days before Christmas. Why? Because I always used to do so in years long past, and each time would learn something. I am now reading the tale for the first time in perhaps thirty years, and it's descriptions, observations, comment and humor are as fresh as ever. I recommend it to all, that all may laugh, think, and then learn.

It's a wrap!

Pure self-indulgence, I know, but after a long day I'm relaxing with a martini and feel content with what I have achieved. The day began with my driving excited, giggling, Christmas-filled girls to school, and then spending an hour in a supermarket with the first part of the weekend food and drink list. (It wasn't at all busy, and no-one was rushing. I even found time for a leisurely cappuccino at Borders.) School pick-up was after mass at 10.00. Was it worth it, this two hour school day? Many parents no doubt thought not, or said not, but I disagree. The end of term mass was important to the community, as was the chance for students to give and receive their personal gifts. And they didn't complain. What are the priorities of some of these parents?

The next few hours was spent running errands, buying the meat for Sunday's "open house" party; collecting an order of petit fours, two bottles of champagne, one of Calvados; taking a mountain of plastic and cardboard to the recycling center, and then, in a basement room, pulling out bags and boxes containing the secret fruit of the last few week's Christmas shopping. A quietly happy time followed, as gifts large and small were carefully wrapped in colorful paper. A thoughtful, and even nostalgic task which I have always enjoyed, for it is as if the ghost of Christmas Past visits me at this time, and as I cut and fold and tape, I remember many days, people and conversations.

Now done, I can reflect some more.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ministry to all? Yes.

"The Royal Navy exists to function at sea. The Royal Naval Chaplaincy Service seeks to support the spiritual, moral and social well being of all personnel and their dependants. It has a unique role to play both in the front line and in support." (Royal Naval Chaplaincy Service.)

"The Chaplain is the friend and advisor of all on board." (Anon. A time-honoured Royal Navy understanding.)

Now that's a pretty serious and even ponderous opening to a post, but it stems not only from my experience and great love of naval chaplaincy and ministry, but also from the pivotal decision made today by the United States Senate to repeal the existing legislation that, whilst not prohibiting gay and lesbian individuals from serving in the armed forces of that country, shrouded the sexuality issues in condign ways that were tantamount to a game of hide and seek. My! That was a long sentence! Let's break it down. Keep it hidden and we won't seek. Give us a glimpse and we will act. (I nearly wrote "Show us a leg" but I know that would be open to innuendo!) Simply put, since the 1983 inception of the "Don't ask, don't tell" policies (under the guidance and approval of President William Jefferson Clinton, that great guardian of sexual morals) gay and lesbian military personnel have occupied a shadowy zone.

Hopefully, and now pending President Barack Hussein Obama's signature, that is history passed, but there is still concern with regard to some serving Chaplains within the American branches of the military. And these are those of the more fundamentalist evangelical groupings, of which (I am accurately informed) there are many within service chaplaincy. Their complaint is this: If gays and lesbians are allowed to serve openly (ie. Be themselves) in the branch of the military in which the plaintiff chaplain serves, and the Pentagon permits such diversity, then their Bible-based (sic) ministry, which does not accommodate such lifestyles, is compromised. Damn! Another long sentence. So, again, let's break it down. These padres don't like it because up until now they've had it two ways. First, a captive parish of existing Christian fundamentalists; and second, a target parish of vulnerable troops to which the same message could be delivered.

The reasoned answer to this, and one which is happily coming from the more balanced senior commanders, reflects the older rules and sentiments of the British Senior Service, the Royal Navy. You see, my somewhat pompous introduction was not without purpose. Given the news headlines it points to the fact that the military culture of the USA is joining that of its peers in Europe, and recognising the greatest value of all - that of the individual who volunteers to serve his or her country, and who is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice in that cause. Regardless of anything more personal.

Of course the United Kingdom acquired this political and military wisdom ten or more years ago. But was that easy? Well yes, but before that change there were many nightmares. And on those I will write some more...

Friday, December 17, 2010

Years brushed away.

Today is a very sad day, for the painters are there painting the kitchen walls. Not that this is a cause for melancholy, for they badly need refreshing. No, it is rather the one section of wall tucked away by the back door that at a given moment today will be covered with new paint. And under that coat will remain seven years of pencilled height measurements - never to be seen again. I've heard of this happening to other families, but this is the first time in my home that cherished memories will be removed by a brush-stroke. And the last - for I think that we've all stopped growing.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

And speaking of signs...

A number of large, lurid crosswalk signs have appeared on Main Street, Bridgehampton, each one marking - yes, the four crosswalks. They seem to have appeared overnight, which is highly unlikely as highway workers do nothing at night except sleep. Needless to say their sudden arrival is quite a talking point on account of they being totally out of keeping with the rest of the permitted signage. To put up any sign in this designated historical district one has to have it assessed and approved various regulatory bodies, and that's no mean feat. Even the traditional (and corporate) "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" was deemed by the Town Board to be unacceptable. So what of these bright yellow intrusions? Ah, they're New York State signs, this being a State Highway. That explains everything. I'm willing to bet that they didn't have to consult local authorities before adding insult to prevent injury.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Sign of the Times?

Seen at the Bridgehampton K-Mart store this week...