Today we went to church in GP after an unintended hiatus of some months. The new vicar was there, of whom we had heard much about earlier in the year in anticipation of her September arrival to the benefice. By her gender alone she would make a departure from the beloved previous vicar, the aptly named Godfrey. But based on those early descriptions I was also expecting a whirling dervish with a shock of flame-coloured curls. It turns out she is a modest forty-something with only a hint of ginger in her wavy bob. She was still feeling her way around her new congregation, and we weren’t making things easy on her. When she started the service by asking Dorothy to light the first candle of Advent, Dorothy duly informed her we usually didn’t light the candle until we started singing the first hymn. Wisely, the vicar agreed to this change of plan.
That first hymn got off to a shaky start. Our normal organist wasn’t there, and the doddering old gent who was sitting in for him attacked it double time. As we struggled to keep up with the melody and get the odd breath in, Dorothy sauntered up to attend to her Advent candle lighting duties. Just as the vicar was getting her rhythm in the second Bible reading, the organist interjected with a sharp musical note. It was unclear if he thought she was done, was just trying to add some emphasis to the last verse, or had fallen asleep and struck his head on the keys. This musical Tourettes continued, puncturing the prayers of intercession and the sermon as well. To make matters worse, the rest of the morning’s hymns were unfamiliar, leaving the diminutive congregation guessing at which “of” had three vowels versus one and whether or not you were supposed to repeat the fifth line of each verse three times — the kind of nuance in hymns that depends on the collective memory of the congregation. Despite all this the vicar soldiered on, dispatching an efficient Holy Communion and greeting us all with a smile on our way out. We haven’t broken her yet, but give Dorothy some time.