As the year draws to its close, I am being sworn at by Cat Minor, sitting in a bucket in the hall. That girl has class.
The beginning - on the 4th of January - was my starting work as an administrator for the New Road Baptist Church, at Bonn Square, in the centre of Oxford. I didn't think I'd get the job (why break the habit of eight years' applying?) and I even missed the first e-mail inviting me for interview, but it soon felt very much like home. The work is less simple than I expected, which is all to the good, and involves routine stuff, like drafting the weekly order of service, and checking the fire alarms, and more unexpected make-it-up-as-you-go-along things, like finding the fuse boxes, and discovering where all the keys are, and the doors they fit. My empire is vast, for a church - the chapel itself, with the customary baptistry (1 hr 45 minutes to fill, a day to heat), a late-Tudor wood-beamed room believed to have been part of King Charles I's Mint House when he briefly made Oxford his capital during the civil war, and a 4-storey extension behind the pulpit with two halls, several offices, washrooms (with showers, not just lavatories), and a lift. The last church I knew well - SS. Mary and Nicholas, Littlemore - didn't even have running water in the building.
The most interesting thing about the work, though, is the people. On my very first "Church Meeting" day one of the congregation said aloud "the church is the people, not the building", and that is a cornerstone of Baptist identity. My previous ministry was as a priest in a church (or a chapel) with a parish (or a college), and the congregation were just those who turned up. Power lay with the vicar and churchwardens. With the Baptists, it's the minister - who is chosen to lead, and to pastor, not to do the housework - and the elected deacons, of whom there are ten. So I am a monkey with eleven organ-grinders. But I try to get to the Church Meetings, because the real power and authority and spirit of the church lies with the people, all of them, gathered together. I have tried to discern Baptist solutions to problems that arise through my office, rather than resorting to my normal Anglican ways. It has been illuminating.
The 4th of January was also the 27th anniversary of my first visit to Fairacres, in 1989. I met Sister Helen Columba of the Hoy Spirit, and we became friends ever since. She believed in the Mother of God, prayers for the dead, icons, and singing (as frivolous as necessary). On the 2nd of September, she exchanged time for eternity, as had her been her long-avowed wish, in her 89th year. This was a couple of months after Sister Isobel, who was instrumental in returning me to Fairacres as a monthly celebrant. I don't imagine either was a particularly easy sister to live with, but they were larger than life, and life will be different without them. Mine is.
In the summer, I hit my half-century, had a party, and went on holiday - very much at the insistance of my new employers, not, I think, to get rid of me, but to be good employers who give their staff the appropriate time off. I went to Dorset and to Sussex, where I was treated like a king and had adventures worthy of one.
To make life more interesting, on the 14th of October I had a fall. No, not the one you're guessing, before dinner, in the twilight, absent-mindedly walking on a rubbish bit of footpath. I thought nothing of it, had dinner with my friends (who were much more concerned) and it wasn't until the pain at 2 in the morning forced me that I went to the John Radcliffe Hospital, to A & E.
The break is thorough, my capacity to learn exercises to mend it is nil. I can nearly wash up. The operation was on Saint Frideswide's Day (19th of October). And I can bless the sisters with my right hand. But a bit of me is glad that briefly I used my left.
Ricardo and I have had 14 months apart (and that is the deepest and coldest hell of all). There are prospects of that changing, but all depends on what happens with Merry England (my parents' land in Sussex). Everything takes forever. They've checked the place for amphibians and for bats - 35 years ago I could have told them there's nothing so interesting there, and I strongly doubt their survey was more thorough than mine.
So, at the dawn of the year, we wait. Mostly we wait under the cloud of our friend Tim's pancreatic cancer, which shows no inclination to respond to treatmeant. But it's one of those cancers that tends not to. The Sisters tell me it is entirely proper to pray for a miracle. And so I do. He has probably given this world more than enough, but I find myself wishing for a little encore.
And, Oh yeah, I wrote a book! "O Taste And See" on Amazon Kindle.
The next one will be more interesting. I almost promise.