As you can imagine, running a shrine can be a full time occupation. As you can well imagine, the administration can be burdensome with births, deaths, marriages and suchlike to chronicle. Then there’s the physical upkeep of the building. Not only has somebody got to ensure that the building is kept in good repair, but the money has to be found to fund the various works. Even our bill for floor soap and scrubbing brushes has escalated in recent years, especially since Maljie insisted that the mendicants bathed at least weekly.
But by far the greatest burden laid upon us is the congregation of worshippers. This is a somewhat nebulous group. At its core is that small cadre of people who we will see whenever we have any form of service. Their numbers are swelled by those who attend the more formal services, and then you have those who turn up for the great feast and fast day ceremonies. But to these you have to add the populace of Exegesis Square. Whilst some of them do occasionally venture into the shrine, most will expect to be married or have some sort of last rites there. We were, in their eyes, ‘Their Shrine’ even if they couldn’t remember the gender of our current incumbent, never mind her name. Still, to be fair to them, we probably cause them more problems than they cause us so their claim on our time was perhaps more reasonable than it seems.
Our duties with regards these people are nebulous in the extreme. With births and marriages we’re on solid ground, there are rules. Similarly when it comes to consoling the bereaved. But we get dragged into family arguments, feuds between neighbours, disputes over new building works, and whether tradesmen are entitled to use Madam Battock’s yard for parking their vehicles off the road as they deliver to persons other than Madam Battock.
But to bear the burden of all these obligations would be to impose far too heavy a load on an incumbent. Even one who was subject to the heroic assistance provided by sundry temple wardens, sub-hierodeacons, and deacons. Hence provision is made to draw in even more assistance from the laity. Each shrine should have a Parochial Shrine Council or PSC. In theory the members of the PTC are elected by and from the laity who regard themselves as in some way connected to the shrine.
What is more likely to happen is that we round up the biggest trouble makers and cozen them into attending. Then when the incumbent announces a policy which they don’t like, we can just point out that they agreed it during the discussion phase (even if, in reality, they dozed through the discussion thanks to the medicinal brandy Maljie made them drink after commenting that she didn’t like the sound of their chest), so they better get out there and convince everybody else that it’s a good idea. To be honest it never works as well in practice as it does in theory but still the idea is basically sound.
Now it so happened that a number of our temple wardens went on a joint retreat. It must be stressed this wasn’t one of the penitential ones where everybody beats their breasts and exclaims how wicked they are. This one was prudently planned and the destination carefully chosen. The retreat was at a shrine known for its hospitality. Now I am excused these retreats because I have to somehow earn a living. Obviously the temptation to make yourself available for these more celebratory retreats is considerable. But it is my experience that if you are available for one, you are assumed to be available for the other. Bitter experience indicates that life offers more opportunities for the penitential rather than the celebratory. Hence I allow my default condition of hard work and poverty to defend me against the temptation to excess.
Still this retreat was notable, mainly due to the efforts of Laxey who wasn’t even there. Before the party set off, he presented one of the temple wardens with a thick book called ‘A Jester’s year in wit and jollity.’ Now it must be admitted that some of the various sub-orders take the role of the ‘holy fool’ very seriously. This book, whilst not theologically sanctioned, was within the spirit of some of the Order’s teachings. Certainly anybody who did what the book recommended and told one of the jokes each day (complete with gestures and appropriate dance steps) would at the very least learn humility.
Still the temple warden concerned was much taken by the book and each day, with immense formality, he would tell the joke.
I don’t know how much hilarity ensued, but word got back to Laxey that Maljie for one felt that there had to be a reckoning.
Still the tales of the book of amusing anecdotes spread throughout our community, and this caused some questions to be asked. The retreat was discussed by people who you would never have thought susceptible to the blandishments of the spiritual life. Cynics might comment that their interest was fired by tales of the food and accommodation, but I feel that one can be too sceptical.
Certainly there was a lot of discussion about extending the number of those invited on retreat the next year, and whilst there was some resistance to this amongst the sceptics, the members of the Parochial Shrine Council seemed to think that they at least were entitled to attend. Indeed some of the members sought every opportunity to display the extent of their spiritual enlightenment. In all candour it didn’t take them very long.
But with the coming of spring, the demand for a retreat grew, and considerable numbers put their names forward. Indeed they even experimented with vehicles designed to get them there without the drudgery of walking. There were several practice trips which proved that given a good wind and no more luck than a trip normally needs, it might even be possible for everybody to get there on the one vehicle. Indeed the last trial trip took on a most celebratory aspect with drink taken, community singing, and ladies casting flowers to the watching crowds.
It was at this point that the incumbent stepped in and announced that given the nature of the previous year with plague, sickness, and the usual low grade depravity, she had arranged a penitential retreat.
At that, enthusiasm seems to have waned. Still the retreat did go ahead, three married ladies went on it. Their attitude seems to have been that if you are getting your meals made for you and there is no washing up, it isn’t all that penitential.
And we’re still on the road trying to convince people that they ought to by ‘Tallis Steelyard. A Fear of Heights.’
Today it’s Jaye and Anita.
Two ladies with a wide variety of books between them as well as Bonsai trees! What more could you ask for?