Friday, November 06, 2009

Getting ready for Santa & the Mess Dinner - unconnected

There were seventeen people for the lunchtime Eucharist today, a high number that seems to be becoming less unusual. Maybe it is linked to increased footfall in the city. It's certainly busy these days, since the Grand Arcade opened. Each time I walk through there seems to be a new shop opening. Christmas decorations are going up all over the place. In another six days there'll be a lights switch-on ceremony, and for one more year Santa's reindeers will have their supper in St John's Churchyard before they go on duty before thousands of enchanted tots and their parents.

This year, Santa and Co. will be based in a giant inflatable igloo on Hills Street, in the open area between Habitat and St David's centre. With a new one way system in force, the animal transport vehicle must enter the pedestrian area by a different route, and the reindeer taken off and into the churchyard through another gate. Adjustments will have to be made, as several large wooden 'chalets' in the German Weinachtsmarkt style are to be constructed on Working Street around the north and east side of the church, and will be selling hot snacks and mulled wine in the run up to Christmas. How this will work in practice remains to be seen. A trip to the City Manager's office was necessary after the Eucharist, to check out the details, and this meant that I couldn't do my usual hour of convivial dish washing in the tea room. Then it was time to go home and get ready for the annual United Services Mess dinner in the Angel Hotel.

Once more, over two hundred mostly ex-servicemen (no women) dined together to the sound of an excellent military wind ensemble in their scarlet uniforms, toasted each other, listened to speeches and told stories. I sat next to a TA Colonel from near Wrexham, whose day job is farming. We talked green issues, enjoyably. On the previous five occasions when I have been present, ostensibly to say Grace, and lead an act of remembrance, I have sat between Steve Crosby, a Mess committee member and John Wall, Master of Ceremonies. I asked John where Steve was this year, and learned that he had died only a fortnight before - a year younger than I.

Unfortunately nobody had thought to inform me of his passing, so I missed the opportunity to attend his funeral, and could do no more than raise a glass to his memory. As a 'civilian' parson, it has been an honour to serve as Mess Chaplain, although it has been mostly in a formal role with so many other demands on my time.

In a way, not being told of Steve's death reflects the superficiality of the pastoral relationship I've had with the Mess. That saddens me, but it strikes me that maybe that's the way most people prefer it to be these days - not getting to close to a cleric in case their beliefs are questioned or challenged. It's so important not to give up simply because the role doesn't seem to mean much to anyone any longer. Better to keep turning up, as Woody Allen says. Success is in 'being there', no matter how you're regarded. Circumstances change, knowing and being known, even being taken for granted, has a significance which changes with the passage of time.

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