We are poring over an ancient map of the churchyard, trying to decipher the squiggles which determine whose ashes were interred and where. Approaching the season of Halloween, with its ghouls and ghosties, it seems appropriate
My task this morning is to act as a "Meeter and Greeter" for anyone turning up for a Parish Surgery. This is a new(ish) initiative intended to encourage people wishing to arrange a christening, a
wedding or, more sadly, a funeral to come along at a fixed time on a Saturday morning when our Rector will have his diary with him and his wits about him.
This is not to imply, I say hastily, that he is witless
- Heaven forefend! But even I have noticed the way members of the congregation constantly nab him on the way out of Church at the end of a service looking to arrange a date to meet so that he is trying to tap details into his mobile phone with one hand while
using the other to shake paws with the retiring congregation. A Saturday morning surgery sounds like an extremely good solution.
I had put my name down on the rota of welcomers weeks ago but, so many were
the volunteers, that this is the first occasion for which my presence is required. I am not exactly sure of the nature of my task. I can't imagine I am expected to be like a doctor's receptionist, jealously guarding access to the Rector and the front row pew
which he appears to be using as his surgery. Nor do I feel it would be fitting to ask any intrusive questions of those arriving for their appointments. No, my job (I decide) is to smile broadly at All Comers and offer a welcoming mug of coffee and a biscuit.
I can do this! Should I need to be companionable and pour myself a mug of coffee, then I feel this is also acceptable in the interests of friendliness. Plus, in my defence, I had to leave the house without my customary second coffee of the morning so I am
already playing catch-up.
Elizabeth is on Welcome Duty with me. It was supposed to be Jill but instead it's Elizabeth. She has heard that we may not exactly be rushed off our feet but it seems we have struck
lucky. We have a steady stream of visitors including a couple wanting to book a date to have their (delightfully smiley) five month old baby christened and a fella who has often wandered around the churchyard and is delighted to find the building open so that
he can have a look inside. The smiley baby takes one look at our Rector and starts to cry. Apparently he often has the effect on babies, he thinks it's on account of his beard. It crosses my mind that this doesn't augur well for the christening but I keep
my thoughts to myself. I can be quite circumspect when I wish, you know.
I spend quite a lot of time with a man whose grandfather's name appears on the Roll of Honour for those of the parish who died in the
First World War. He is clutching one of those Remembrance Day crosses on which he has written his grandfather's name with his date of birth and death. He was only 29 years old when he died. I tell him about another name on the Roll of Honour, that of Arthur
Pickering whose case study I wrote as part of the Great War Project. Was he a relative of mine? the visitor asks. I say no, but reflect that I grew to feel very close to Arthur the Artist while researching his story so I almost feel as if he is, indeed, family.
Our visitor will return for the Remembrance Day service when he will be able to plant his cross in the churchyard.
Oh, yes, I nearly forgot, the map of the churchyard. Our Rector needs to locate a particular
plot so that the ashes of a family member can be interred therein. We consult the Register, with its beautifully inscribed entries, but after 1993 information on plot numbers has been inexplicably omitted. Houston, we have a problem! As somebody memorably
(and with considerable understatement) once said.
Elizabeth is turning the pages of the Register reverently. A member of the parish for over fifty years, every page presents her with names she remembers, faces
she recalls, stories to relate.
I'm quite sorry when my two hours is up. Back home I go to Mr B to tell him about my productive morning. New people to meet, Tales From the Past - and with coffee on tap!
What's not to like?