Tonight, which was New Year's Eve and I suppose is now technically New Year's Day, I walked back from the kind friends who'd wined and dined me and given me company. But I left before midnight, as one was ill, another tired, and I wanted just to check on the little dog I was meant to be looking after, that the lodger had returned and had let her into the garden for less festive functions. And I passed my parish church, here in Barton, which is an ugly barn of a thing. It's meant to resemble an ark, but only an aardvark would think it bijou enough to book a cabin. And the lights are never on. But they were tonight. Not for the "normal" Anglican congregation (I shall stifle my own giggle whilst the grown-ups amongst you pretend there is either such a thing, or you'd ever want to be part of one), but for a mainly African congregation of no denomination known to me, and quite possibly not to them. Other lights were on in my friend's house, so I knew the dog was OK. I returned, and sat at the back.
It was very loud. Everyone who spoke had a voice big enough to fill that church unaided, but they used the microphone all the same. I caught about one word in seven, which is what W H Auden says is all you need to follow an opera. The people at the front loudly told us what we were just about to agree with, and the pew-fodder equally loudly agreed. They liked allelluia, and prosperity, and mercy, and joy, and Amen. They were all for 2016 opening the floodgates - seemingly unaware that it's done that for many of our brothers and sisters in the north to rather devastating effect. It was naive, simplistic, hard to follow, shouty, and crass. But the people smiled and were nice.
Then there was a bit where it went quiet. I couldn't tell what was going on at the front, because we'd been told to stand up, so obviously, I didn't. I thought it was time for our own prayers, and there was a babble of noise. And I thought, OK, these guys are genuine, I'll send mine in on the back of theirs, whether they like it or not.
As I was leaving, a nice young man in an ill-advised suit (he should have gone with my sister) shook my hand and asked my name, and we got to talking about prayer and I said mine was for my husband to get a visa and come home. "But perhaps not all your friends here would be OK with that." He said "Who are we to judge? May God grant you your heart's desire in this year to come".
And Amen, to that.