Saturday, 9 January 2016

Thought On A Day Off - after a week's work!

It's been eight years since I had work like this. And the Night Shelter wasn't quite like this, as it was three days on, three days off. A most peculiar regime, and I should have thought an absolute nightmare for anyone with children who needed looking after (and do any children not?). But here it was, 9-1, then 8.30-12.30 the last day to let me get to my other job, every day, Monday to Friday. And today was a day off work. Unheard-of!

Now, as Max Miller might say, here's a funny thing. It's a new thing to be respected (bear in mind, I live alone at present, and am butler to two difficult cats). Not in any pathetic and subservient way, but in a "you're doing this thing for us, and you're going to be OK" sort of way. There was a new desk, a new chair, a new computer, and a new printer. They all work. People telephone asking for the last chap who ran the office, and I have to say "no, but there's me". And they are generally OK about that. And usually they ask after the last chap, because he is the soul of kindness and generosity, and has obviously given a good impression of my place of work these long years. Happily, he is still around to give much needed advice and direction.

For me the church is a sympathetic building. I've never been a rococo Anglo-Catholic, and its clean Georgian lines remind me of my favourite church ever, S. Giles-in-the-Fields. I think perhaps the lines are just a little too non-conformistly clean to count as "Palladian", but it's not far off. And there is a commitment to welcome, to anyone who comes in from the street, wanting a cup of coffee, or to look round, or even to pray. They can light candles. I didn't think Baptists would approve of candles. I was wrong. I tried to introduce them at S. Giles, but I was narrowly outvoted.

The dynamic of me - an Anglican - working for them - Baptists - feels good. The reason is that I have no idea how to be a good Baptist, and wouldn't presume to tell them. The different church polity, the ten deacons, the monthly "church meeting" for every one to chip in, this is all so very new. It's fascinating. If I were working in this capacity (administrator) for an Anglican church, I'd be telling them how to get it right. It's really rather liberating to know nothing, and to have to learn.

There have been spikes and prickles, of course, but also little triumphs, like securing a room booking which should make a decent amount of money for relatively little effort apart from the toil that went into creating the room in the first place. On Friday it was time to print the Sunday service sheet. The photocopier wouldn't switch on. Friday is the one day I have to leave smartly on time to attend to my wheelchair-pushing other job. Should have checked the thing on Thursday. First thing next week, it will be fixed, but at least we know we have a spare printer that can do the job more laboriously and probably expensively, as a stop-gap.

After these long years mainly alone in my intravert's cave, I find it stimulating to be around cheerful people. This is a very good thing.

The journey there and back - walking, of course - is also a part of it. I have generally resented having to go into central Oxford these last months, as I was being required to turn up by the Jobcentre or Maximus (the outfit they farm out the no-hopers to in the expectation that they will either be bullied into submission, a lousy job, or an early death). It's rather different when you're going to earn your crust, and quite voluntarily. The mornings are beautiful. The birds, rain or shine, shout the heavens down. It's glorious to listen to - as you follow early-bird schoolchildren with plugs in their ears from the bundle of plastic and string they're holding in their hands, which mean they can't hear a real thing.

The school children can be amusing in their way. The last time I posted, I'd noted some girls, and a correspondent wondered why there were no boys. A day or two later there was a boy - those same girls were ahead of him - an aficionado of the cult of the skin-tight trouser leg. Apart from his good head of hair, he resembled Max Wall, as he ambled along. I doubt many people have the slightest idea who he was! You often saw him on "Variety" shows on the telly when I was small. He was a bit creepy. I hope this particular fashion soon dies its natural death.

Walking back one afternoon, round the edge of a playing field, beyond Mesopotamia, I was thinking to myself "well, there's a pretty, fair, little thing". As he passed me, I saw he was wearing a dogcollar. That must surely be the definition of middle-age - that even the clergy look like youngsters.

But in my new job I am no longer clergy - although I've been invited to take mid-week prayers (as a layman!) - I am just trying to make things work well for this rather interesting, well-resourced, hopeful, church, in the centre of our town.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
January 2016


  1. Lovely blog Richard - so full of hope and wonder it made my day!

  2. Keep up the good work, all jobs have their troubles, which can be overcome.

  3. Pleased to hear such a positive report on your new job and the nice people who employ you. I wish every blessing to you and the church.