Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Reality Rev

The Revd Adam Smallbone returns to our screens this Thursday evening and it seems likely that 2.2million people or so will tune in to Rev - many of them having dashed home from the latest PCC meeting, bible study group or welcome service for their new Vicar, no doubt! Why did the nation take to Rev so whole heartedly? For Anglicans, and perhaps especially for anyone who has lived in a vicarage in an urban parish, the answer has to be because the writers did their homework so well!' It really does feel like that! Vicarage events that stick in my mind include
- wondering why some notes on the piano wouldn't sound and finding jam doughnuts had been stuffed into the strings by members of the toddler group.
- having the lawn strewn with organ pipes the same day we were interviewing four people for the post of youth worker.
- getting up feeling rather ill to find the kitchen inhabited by church wardens, tramps and an area dean.
- finding a lad with learning disabilities had wandered off the street into a party we were holding; everyone went home, thinking he had come with someone else and he couldn't tell us his surname or where he had come from.
- having a traveller turn up at midnight on New Year's Eve, locate a precious video tape we had lost and predict the downfall of President Clinton.
- making ash for the Ash Wednesday service in the freezing cold on the patio with a blow torch and getting locked out along with a visitng monk.
- fielding 192 phone calls in two days enquiring about a community development post we had advertised.
- looking out of my study window to see the Social Services Building opposite ablaze (it was an arson attack by a 7 year old.)
- holding a meeting for 14 people with 19 different languages spoken in the room.
- forgetting to tell my long suffering family that 24 people were coming for supper and a meeting.
- nearly burning the kitchen down while answering the phone at the same time as cooking for an Alpha supper.
- having a garden full of archbishops, bishops and archdeacons from four continents.
- having the whole church turn up to transform my garden from a building site into a lawn.
- having a visitor come for a night and stay 10 months.
- entertaining someone to lunch at short notice (and with some grumbling, I'm ashamed to say) who unexpectedly donated a very large sum 'for the children in the community'.
- lending a room for a coffin after a mix up over the date of a funeral.

And those are just the ones I can tell you about!

People often say that clergy live in ivory towers. Well that may be so, but they are very crowded, busy ivory towers with a range of life in all its forms that many people don't get to see - and certainly not all at once and probably not when they are at home! Tom Hollander's comedy has been hailed as 'rehabilitating the Church of England.' While preparing to write the first series, he and his fellow writers, James Wood and Richard Coles (himself a vicar), 'spent time with vicars and discovered how interesting it was that they sat right in the middle of society, although everyone thinks of them as marginal, because we are a secular society. But the church is still right at the heart of it with weddings, funerals and schools. You can look at what is going on in our lives through the perspective of a priest, because he has access to everything. Also their lives are full of tragi-comic stories and their beleaguered status seems to chime with our feelings about ourselves as a nation. From looking at the Church of England, it's not so very far to seeing where we are with ideas about England.' This is the kind of insight that makes the show what it is and explains its wide appeal. Hollander also recognises the enormous number of demands that are placed on the clergy by people from every part of society and comments that they live through a series of 'minor crises all the time in the same way that doctors do.'

Speaking as a member of the clergy, it's deeply refreshing to be hailed as relevant and at the heart of society! Usually we are told that we are out of touch. Families of vicars and vicars themselves tend to smile wrily when this is said - we know we are in touch with a lot of people who see what we stand for and what we do as relevant. It's just that many of these encounters tend to be counter-cultural and, paradoxically, can be seen by those involved as deeply valuable and by those not involved as completely valueless. That's the space we inhabit. So Thursday evening will see me and my cuppa installed with the Rev who seems to understand my world, odd as it may be.   

(The above quotation is taken from Tom Loxley's interview with with Tom Hollander in the Radio Times 5-11th November.)  


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