Bless me Father, for I have sin… cerely not been inside this old church in twenty years, perhaps. The big brick parish barn across from the Arndale Centre; Christmas Day, a funny one this year, apart from my B., and north for my parents, my father unwell, and I’m accompanying Mum to the mass. It’s the mid-morning number – a little more pzazz than 8am, but not the big hoo-hah of the last evening’s ‘midnight’: there are copious carols; the big ones, with no less than three packed in during the communion wine and wafers, and it feels funny – funnily – after so long, to remember that these ditties have churchy old content. I know how that sounds.
The huge house is very well kept, tidy, clean-carpeted and the woodwork good; the hinged kneelers all in unsqueaking order, and the roof – that plain vaulting – is freshly magnolia’d, where it used to be sectioned in the pale yellows, whites and blues that made sense to me as a Leeds United supporting child. The swinging, trapeze-like modern crucifix above the altar has gone, replaced by the original, nailed to the wall.
The priest for this big gig is African – this parish’s first I believe – and is warm and funny and precise and wishes us all to wish all around us a Happy Christmas, which sudden commotion and twisting and smiles, handshakes, kissed cheeks, leaves my mum for one bemused enough to whisper aside to me: ‘I don’t know what all that was about’ – which is a typically classic and nun-tutored sentiment from her. I laugh out loud. I actually LOL. I wonder if it’s okay to take discreet pictures on my phone, to ‘check in’, even; I do manage a sly shot of a side wall and Station of the Cross that interests me, and days later I Google the checking-in question. Check out the second result here:
And to answer the question (the first one), there are Catholics generally saying, well, sure, take a minute before kneeling down to pray to check-in and share with the world where you are – help put, help keep church-going on the social media map. Which POV surprises me, because I’m as stuck in my own mud as anyone is.
My sister on the phone later reminds me we had had other characterful (in a positive way) priests across the years; and I recall then Father Wh_______, with his Irish bulk and cigarettes, and Father Angelo ________ who didn’t get cross at me turning up late as an Altar Boy, and Father H____, the Bryson-like sermon humourist; Father C______, the ladies man with the lady’s name (oh, come on, everyone knew about the affair, the probable offspring); and certainly more besides.
The Altar Servers on this Christmas Day are two young sisters, and they’ve massively got the giggles and are daring to catch each others’ eyes either side of a sour-faced deacon (his handbag on fire): which is just simply lovely to see.
Father S______ sings ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’.