Whenever I think of Christmas services, I recall the time that we organised a community Carol Concert in our first church, Portrack. This was in the 1980’s when the North East was savaged by government economic policy leading to massive unemployment. We went from 18 to over 50% unemployment on the three estates where the church was located. In response to such devastation that damaged individuals and the community to this day, we sought to counteract the damage that being out of work does to people by raising their spirits, affirming their worth and value and reminding them of the skills and creative gifts that they possessed.
We were also involved in establishing and working with a job creation agency that was founded in the Catholic Church at the top end of Stockton High Street. Over 100 people were given short-term work opportunities under Manpower Service Commission funding and as a church we employed five people which benefited the dispirited local neighbourhood; an elderly care worker, children’s co-ordinator, community visitor and youth worker. The brutality of the Government then that removed funding for such schemes meant the closure of the agency and people laid off within weeks of the decision to withdraw finances.
Enough of my angst with a government that prospered the rich, allowed for unchecked free-market economic policies, sold off our countries natural resources and national assets, got rid of the valuable asset of so much council housing, paving the way for the private sector to amass profits for shareholders and not for the equitable distribution of public funds to the general public. Policies that left communities bereft of hope and with little consideration for the future well-being.
However the purpose of this blog is not to berate Thatcherism but to lighten the spirits at this festive time. When the job creation agency was running we also employed a young person who did some secretarial work. In the last minute rush to get the song sheets printed in time for the carol service, there was clearly inadequate proof-reading. It was a good service and the disused church that had become a community centre was packed with people from the neighbourhood. I can even remember speaking on the subject of “Where are you in the story?” but if you were to ask people what their abiding memory of the service was, it would have related to that unfortunate and hilarious mis-print which had the congregation singing, ‘Away with a manager! It completely ruined what I think is a rather sickly, albeit much loved children’s Christmas carol but brought the house down with laughter.
On some occasions I use voice software recognition and was glad recently that I had checked something that I had dictated in preparation for a talk I was giving on Mary being the God bearer. I was writing about her carrying her first born son, and that she was literally full of grace and truth within her womb. I was so glad I proof-read and corrected the phrase Mary carried cheeses for nine months.
Shirley, my wife, returned from work the other day and shared with us about her colleague in the library last week. A customer, or as is politically correct, a ‘library user’ approached the librarian and asked if she had any books on psychopaths. A rather unusual request, (although Channel 4 did recently run a whole evening on what was billed as ‘Psychopath Night’ ~ so glad that the media is keeping up broadcasting standards!!!!!). Shirley’s colleague kept calm and showed the man the health and wellbeing section and returned to her counter. Twenty minutes later the man approached her again and said, “I’m sorry to bother you but I can’t find any books on cycle paths”.
Last year at a civic carol service, we were instructed on the hymn sheets that the first two verses of Once in Royal David’s city would be sung, “without musical accomplishment”.
And finally; we’ve been working really hard throughout this year on the second volume of readings, prayers, liturgies and other resources for Celtic Daily Prayer and I’m reminded of the early edition that included the Aidan Compline which included the following misprint “O Christ son of the living God may your holy angels guard our sleep, may they watch over us as we rest and hoover around our beds”. Actually, an angel that hoovered would bring good news of great joy to many!
May your festive season have moments of great joy and much laughter.
Enjoy celebrating CHRISTmas.