Clergy holidays (and what I did on mine)

Clergy do quite well for holidays. We get about 6 weeks a year, if we take them all of course. 4 weeks with Sundays and 2 without. I guess that kind of makes up for the fact that we mostly work 6 days a week at an average of 12 hours a day. (And still we feel that we haven’t done all that we should. ) So this past week has been my post-Christmass break. Every year I plan to block out weeks in my diary before they fill up and always I forget. So this was the first week I could manage after the busyness of the Christmass season. The baby Jesus can be so demanding, you know.

Although clergy do quite well for holidays, our stipend doesn’t really give us enough to actually go away on holiday. Some have found the secret locations of the cheap diocesan cottage which only those ‘in the know’ have access to. (I don’t think our diocese has any.) Some have holiday homes or caravans to which they escape. Some have working spouses who contribute to a nice holiday somewhere quiet. And some of us have none of these things and stay at home, lurking behind the net curtains (or purple voiles, in my case) jumping whenever the phone rings and having to check the answering machine anyway in case your old father has fallen out of bed again. I don’t really mind staying at home. The Lord knows there is always plenty to do. And I am never happier than with a pile of books and a few DVDs to watch. For the first 48 hours that is. Then I tend to get bored and wish I was back at work. I do love my work! But I know if we do that, we end up having nervous breakdowns and having to retreat to nice nuns somewhere to cry. (I’ve never got that bad yet, but if anyone knows where the nice nuns are, do let me know for future reference.)

The first book I read was a very short young children’s read-aloud one which I’d heard about called The Kissing Hand. Chester Raccoon doesn’t want to go to school. He wants to stay home with mummy Raccoon but Mrs Raccoon explains to him that it might not be as scary as he thinks. Then she tells him a secret which she learned from her mother, called the Kissing Hand. She kisses him on the palm of his hand and told Chester that whenever he felt lonely and needed a little loving from home he was to press his hand to his cheek and think, ‘Mummy loves you. Mummy loves you.’ And that very kiss will jump to your face and fill you with toasty warm thoughts. Etc etc. You get the drift. It made me think of God holding you in the palm of his hand so may find its way into a sermon at some point.

Holiday reading always has to include a whodunit. This one was A Very Private Grave by Donna Fletcher Crow, which I think was recommended in the Church Times but I could be wrong. Whodunits are good but an ecclesiastical whodunit is even better. This one starts off in Mirfield at the Community of the Resurrection with Felicity, a young American student studying there – one of the first women ordinands to do so.  So lots of connections for me so far. Then one of the lovely old monks gets murdered brutally and Felicity and Fr Antony, her church history lecturer, have to flee the College and try to solve the murder before they are accused of having a hand in it. They know that old Fr Dominic was exploring St Cuthbert’s life just before he died so they decide to trace St Cuthbert’s footsteps looking for clues. That takes them to Holy Island, Jarrow, Whithorn and Durham. All throughout you get excerpts from Cuthbert’s hagiography and the Venerable Bede’s opus as they follow the pilgrim’s way. So what’s not to love? Places I know, situations I can relate to – it all sounds like the perfect whodunit. Except that there was just a touch too much of Cuthbert’s story in this for me. Big chunks of the saint’s story were just a little intrusive to the story which didn’t really need so much detail. But heh, if you want a whodunit with lots of historical detail then this is the book for you. I enjoyed it and would certainly look out for more in this series of Monastery Murders (this is the first, I think).

Then I watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Swedish TV version).  I loved the Millenium trilogy which I read last year and had heard that the films were equally good. This is the version made for Swedish TV and I watched the dubbed version rather than subtitles because I was knitting at the time – and my knitting is not that good. It was really good – true to the book and pretty violent in bits. I’d definitely get the next two when they’re in the sales.

The next book was Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home by Rhoda Janzen. Whoever recommended this one to me, thank you. It was hilarious. I read it on my Kindle and am so glad because I know I will dip into it again and again. Janzen’s memoir is funny, sad, spiritual and educational. Just as she turned forty her husband left her for Bob who he met on Then she has a car accident and needs somewhere to rest, recuperate and put her life back together again. There is nothing else for it but to go back home to her mother’s welcoming arms in the Mennonite community where she grew up. Her mother is full of good advice, mostly relating to food and there are recipes at the back of the book if you fancy making Borscht soup or have any leftover cabbage. Yes, I did laugh out loud a few times and some lines were just so funny they had to be underlined for future reference (and for all Kindle readers of the book to see!) And for anyone whose husband has manic depression or leaves you for a gay lover, then this is a book you can relate to.  (And yes, mine was but he didn’t.)

The next watch was The Barchester Chronicles on DVD. I remember this being on the BBC way back in the early 1980s but I think I missed it for some reason. A very young and handsome Alan Rickman stars in one of his first roles as the odious Obadiah Slope, Bishop’s Chaplain in Barchester, and there are sterling performances from Donald Pleasence, Geraldine McEwan, Nigel Hawthorne and Susan Hampshire among others. The Church of England of the 18th century doesn’t fare terribly well in Trollope’s novels but there were some parallels for us to draw upon today. Ambition in the church is never a good thing. It was uncomfortable viewing but I just had to watch all 8 episodes in one go.  I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Finally, a book I’ve started but not finished. Where did I hear about this one? I can’t remember but I do know it was because it tempted me with stories of midwives, nuns, prostitutes and priests in the east end of London in the 1950s. Call the Midwife offers it all but so far I’ve only met the midwives and the nuns. It is quite incredible to read something so horrific that happened in your own lifetime and if you are at all squeamish about the symptoms of syphillis then this is not the book for you. I’ll let you know how the church fairs when I’ve finished it.

So there we have it. A little light reading, some enjoyable viewing, a few crosswords and not a lot of housework was done. And now back to work a day early because I didn’t get a chance to write the sermons or prepare for an ecumenical service I’m leading tomorrow. Hey ho.


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