I arrive at exactly 2 p.m. for my afternoon on Open Church Duty, which involves making (and drinking) copious cups of tea and coffee while welcoming visitors dropping into our beautiful church. The heavy door, however,
is firmly locked and bolted.
I message the organiser of Open Church to tell him that I am wandering around the tombstones and to ask if, perhaps, he might have
cancelled this afternoon on account of it being Bank Holiday Monday. I am not making this up - I do love pottering around a graveyard, trying to decipher the inscriptions and making up stories about the lives of the folk interred beneath the hallowed
Here’s Elizabeth whose epithet reads “Thy Will Be Done”. She sounds a trifle stern to me, one who knows her own mind, firmly walks the
line and ensures that her nearest and dearest do the same. This probably totally unfair character assessment is influenced by the fact that under the name of her husband, William, buried in the same grave, is the single word: “Resting.” I think
I may be assuming too much but it’s great fun imagining what might have passed for normal life for Elizabeth the Stern and William the Weary in the 1850s.
of the inscriptions are hopeful: “Although their bodies are turned to dust / We hope their Souls are among the just.” And so say all of us. Others admonish the reader: “Boast not thyself of tomorrow / For thou knowest not what a day will
bring forth.” It’s enough to send a shiver down the spine. Especially when the neighbouring grave records that, buried along with the named couple are “George, William and Edward, their children, who died infants.” Poor George, William
and Edward. Poor parents.
It’s 2.15 so I am inclined to drive home - but then I remind myself that Mr B is not expecting me home till after 4 so I
may as well take myself along to the nearby coffee shop for some welcome refreshment. On my way, however, I meet Anne who is on duty with me this afternoon and who reminds me that Open Church starts at 2.30 not 2 p.m. I have arrived uncharacteristically twirly
(as in too early, don’t you know?)
Ian arrives with the key. My message had given him a bit of a shock, he tells me, making him think he was late so I have
to apologise. He unlocks the church and I scuttle along the aisle to fill the kettle with water, switch it on and unearth the tea and coffee from the box marked “Open Church” concealed underneath the table. Anne tells him off for sharing his cold
with her when they last met so I try my best to stop my irritating tickle of a cough just in case she rounds on me too.
Anne is very good at drawing people
into the church - she sees a young mother with a small daughter and tiny baby outside and invites them in to see the Easter display in the porch. The little girl is much taken with the two stone rabbits which, she tells me, remind her of her own pets. Her
mother turns down my offer of a cup of tea or coffee but the little one can’t resist the lure of the biscuit tin.
Then something quite amazing happens.
The baby - just three months old - is smiling at us. Which makes us all feel gooey inside, as you do when a baby seems to take a fancy to you. Our tiny visitor looks around and suddenly starts to chuckle, as if in response to something or someone we can’t
see. Her mother is astounded: “That’s the first time!” she wonders aloud, “She’s never laughed before.”
I’m sure there’s
a perfectly logical explanation. But I prefer my own, some might say totally irrational, one.
“Suffer little children to come unto me...”