Remembrance Day

The poppy.  The two-minute silence.  The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month.  These are words and images familiar to anyone from, or living in, the UK.

I, however, live in Germany.  Yesterday, with less than a week’s notice, as church warden, I had to step in and lead our church’s Remembrance Day service.

Here we also call it Peace Sunday, because we in our church need to emphasise the service is not about celebrating victory, but about remembering those who gave their lives in conflict, and also about praying for peace between nations.

As warden, my usual task in this service is just to:

  • Lay a wreath
  • Find a German/young person/woman to lay the other

For yesterday I had to:

  • Look through the service sheet
  • Liaise with the preacher
  • Do a dry run
  • Check timings
  • Explain to the wreath layer the context of the service and wreath laying
  • Find a replacement for me to sit in Sunday school
  • Much, much more

In the days before the service, I practise my lines.

Sunday turns up.  I stand at the lectern.  I have been to the loo three times with pre-lectern nerves.

10:45 on the dot.  We start.  I read verbatim from my notes.  I want to get it right.

10:54 We reach the point where we lay the wreaths.  We are meant to start the silence at 11:00.  No way can I pad out the service till 11:00.  I make a decision on the ground.  I signal that we start tne 2-minute silence.

The silence seems to last two hours.  Everyone keeps the silence immaculately.  My blood pressure is lowered.

I thank my wreath layer and return to the lectern to continue the service.

More hymns.  More prayers.  I introduce the preacher, a USAF veteran.  He preaches.  And preaches.  It’s a hum-dinger, forty minutes long, but engaging and thought-provoking.  I then look for our intercessions person.  He is AWOL: “absent without leave.”  I had anticipated that eventuality.  Time for ACTS.

  • Adoration
  • Confession
  • Thanks
  • Supplication

I pray.  We all pray. As I pray for peace, I hesitate for a second or two as I look at members of congregation who come from war zone countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.  I lick my lips and take a sharp intake of breath, thinking of what these people must have gone through.

Fast forward.  Just before 13:00 the service ends with the Grace and notices.

I give thanks to God for a another dignified Remembrance/Peace Sunday service.  The congregation files out to refreshments in the church hall.  I even get compliments on my suit and on how I led the service.  I am truly flattered.  It was a team effort:

  • Leader
  • Chaplain briefing
  • Musicians
  • Sidespersons
  • A patient congregation

After shaking lots of hands and being asked in the absence of “the priest” if I can provide a visitor with some “holy water.”  Answer: er, no, I can’t, and anyway, as far as I am concerned, all water is holy.  That would be an ecumenical question.

13:00 Everyone has been fed and watered.  I breathe a sigh of relief that all went well.

Have a dignified day, won’t you!

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Please call the church warden on…

The vicar is away for several weeks’ holidays.  That means anyone phoning the vicarage with queries is asked to phone me as church warden.  I don’t mind.  Happy to help.  Variety is the spice of life, and I get a wide variety of calls.

First call of the hols – yesterday

Unknown mobile, a lady’s voice:

Hallo.  Do you spik Englisch or Cherman?

G in G:

Würden Sie lieber auf Deutsch reden?

WE speak in German.  The caller is one of the local undertakers.  An English lady has recently died.  As she’s not Catholic, the local Catholic priest won’t bury her.  Can the Anglican priest come to … Cemetery this Friday and bury her ashes in an urn?

G in G:

No.  He’s on holiday abroad this month.  How urgent is it?

Untertaker:

It’s not urgent.  Her ashes are in an urn.

A very practical, German answer.

I email the vicar and cc: the undertaker to assess next steps.

Today the untertaker writes back to advise the local Catholic priest will, after all, bury the English lady’s ashes.  Very kind of him.

floral design steel container

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This afternoon I decide to sit in the library in the city centre in order to:

  1. Read the Torygraph
  2. Write my diary
  3. Think of some blog writing to plan for my avid readers thereof

Another phone call from an unknown mobile number.  It’s a semi-regular member of congregation.

Can the vicar countersign some passport and birth certificate documentation, please?

G in G:

No.  He’s on holiday this month.  What’s the situation?  Maybe I can help?

It turns out:

  • The fiance is a national of country X
  • but was born in country Y
  • and also has a passport of country Z

Fiancee is a German national, but has decided that she and fiance will get married in Caribbean country XX, which requires about 300 copies of doxs (countersigned by a doctor, teacher, priest or person of similar standing) in order for a marriage to take place there.  But if all else fails, they will marry in a German registry office to make it all legal.

G in G:

Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrright, I think I understand.  Where are you right now?

Semi-regular member of congregation (SMOC):

We’re at the airport.

G in G:

If you’d like to come to the library in the city centre, I can take a look and countersign.

SMOC’s fiance turns up thirty minutes later.  We sit in the library.  I have a brainwave.

Let’s jump in your car and head to the church.  We have a selection of rubber stamps there.  That’ll make everything look more official .

Twenty minutes later we reach the church office.  I grab the official rubber stamps and the ink pad.  I take a sheet of A4 paper from the photocopier.

Thump, thump!   Thump, thump!

For a moment, I felt like I was an immigration official at passport control.

I show the sample rubber stamps to SMOC and fiance.  They are happy.

I take the copies of passport and driving licence.  Fountain pen out, I write:

I certify…

I open the ink pad again.

Thump, thump!

Church rubber stamp next to my signature and at the bottom of the page.  Off you go!

person holding brown stamp

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Have a rubbery day, won’t you!

Amnesty International Letters

Shortly after the Tiananmen Square massacre in the summer of 1989, I decided to join Amnesty International.  Once a month I’d receive their magazine.  I’d always open up at the centrefold.

The centrefold consisted of six cases (prisoners of conscience) that Amnesty International had adopted.  I used to write to the governments and embassies of every single one of  the cases without exception, month in, month out.

I never received a reply.

Actually that’s not quite true.

The Israeli Embassy in London did reply.  It was a very courteous letter, in an A4 envelope with several pages of detail.  (I wish I had kept a copy for me scrapbook, I really do.)

I wrote back to the author of the letter, a Boaz Modai.  I invited him up to Redcar, where I was living at the time, recommended he visit the Redcar Rock Shop, treat himself to a lemon top ice cream and informed him that there was a synagogue in Middlesbrough, just up the road.

Boaz Modai did not reply.

Last week I google Boaz Modai.  (t’s a name that you don’t forget.)  Blimey, he has a pedigree, and he’s had a good career.  He ended up as Israeli Ambassador to Ireland later in his career.

I still wonder if he ever planned to visit Redcar on his days off, though.

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Have a diplomatic day, won’t you!

It is right to give thanks and praise…

It is indeed right.  It is our duty and our joy.

It certainly is.  What am I talking about?  Let us, as the psychiatrists say, go back to childhood.

When I was celebrating my birthday as army brat living in Germany, my mum would make me sit down at the kitchen table to write thank-you letters to my grandparents for my birthday money – even for the £1 note that my Grandma would send me.  And not just:

Thanks for the money you sent me.
Love,
Ginge in Germany

No, it had to be properly constructed – followed by a guaranteed ten-minute nagging session of my mother about how scruffy my handwriting was.   Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

I hope you are well.  Thank you for the £1 birthday present.  It was a very nice surprise. 
I will use the money to buy a very nice book that I saw in the shop last week.  It is all about dinosaurs.  I think it will be very interesting.  It has lots of pictures of triceratops, which is my favourite dinosaur. 
Love,
Ginge in Germany

And actually, I do think writing such a letter and expressing gratitude is a very worthwhile exercise.

manners

Last year, one church council meeting just before the summer holidays started, we had a lengthy discussion about how to encourage members of congregation to give of their time to church, whether that be as:

  • Sidesperson
  • Catering staff
  • Intercessions
  • Readings
  • Cleaning
  • Maintenance
  • Sunday school helper
  • etc etc etc

I suggested a simple way: go back to childhood habits.   Send a handwritten thank you card to everyone who hase given of their time to church.  I’ve never been a backseat driver.  I rarely say:

Someone should do that.

I say:

I will do that.

The day after that meeting, I spent three hours in the church meeting room, fountain pen by my side, bottle of navy blue ink by my side, a pile of dm thank-you card (50 cents each – bargain!) on the table in front of me.  Oh yes, and a few sheets of postage stamps (non-self-adhesive), also on the table next to my church directory.

Card to:

  • Adrian Aardvark…
  • Billy and Sally Boyne…
  • Carol Cardomah…
  • Zachary Zilman

…finished.  (Time for a cup of tea.)

Total number of cards sent last year: 33.  I counted every single one of them.  Not bad, when you consider our congregation consists of about 90 people.

What was the reaction?  They loved it.  I had so many people coming up to me at the next service after the cards were sent, saying,

Hey, thank you so much for your card.  I wondered what it was when I came back off holiday!  Really nice to be appreciated.

This year I decided to do the same.  I just hope I haven’t missed anybody out.  On the way to my office I had to stop off that local post to ask the nice lady who works there for some nice, attractive stamps.

And here they are…

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thanks3

thanks4

thanks1

After several hours – the finished product!

It is good to show proper appreciation at least once a year to volunteer, who do so much for our church.  People appreciate being appreciated.  Say it with flowers a handwritten card!

This year: 37 cards sent.

Have an appreciative day, won’t you!

How to confuse a 5-year-old

A few weeks ago I attended a Roman Catholic first communion, namely that of a young relative of Schatz.  Me, I’m a Prod and proud, to quote from the song, but I’m more than happy to attend such things, stick some cash in the lad’s Erste Kommunion card and join the family for post-mass buffet lunch (which was delicious).

Before the mass started, I chatted to Schatz’s relative-in-law, her five-year-old daughter, seated between us.  R-in-L and I chatted in German.  Daughter sat quietly all during the mass.

Eventually we reached the Lord’s Prayer.  Everyone else said it in German: Vater unser, etc.  I said it in English, my beloved mother tongue, thus:

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name;
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done
in earth, as it is in heaven:
Give us this day our daily  bread;
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive them that trespass against us;
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil:
When before the Collect the priest alone recites the prayer, the people here respond: Amen.
When after all have communicated the people repeat each petition after the priest, the prayer ends:
For thine is the kingdom,
the power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.
Amen.

Within a few syllables, five-year-old is staring at me, her jaw nearly reaching the ground.  Daughter tells Mutti words to the effect:

I can’t understand a word he is saying.

Mutti tells daughter:

He comes from another country. 

(Daughter still looks mystified as I flick back into German.)

Have a confusing day, won’t you!

man driving vehicle near tree

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We Are Not A Babysitter Service…

I reiterate once more.  I admit it once more.  I am a care bear.

But even I have my limits.

Rewind to a few weeks ago.  We have a member of congregation, who is is a de facto single mother  (DFSM).  Husband works away a lot.  She’s lonely, possibly a bit burdened with bringing up a two-year-old child on her own.  Probably her German is limited.  Ditto (I suspect) her English.  I have noticed her several times in the past few months.  I have often wondered: is she possibly on Mogadon?  She often seems in a bit of a daze.

After there service one day, I hear a conversation a few metres away:

House group member:

Oh yes, we have a house group on Wednesday evenings.  You really should come.  We are looking at the Book of Acts.  We also enjoy fellowship, tea and cookies.

DFSM:

Oh, I will come.

Fast-forward to the following Wednesday.  It’s 19:45.  Most of the house group members are there.

Let me just interject here.  House group is also known as:

  • Home group
  • Hauskreis (literally: house circle in German)
  • Life group
  • Bible study

We get settled in for a good meaty session to look at the Book of Acts.

My mobile rings. It is DFSM.

An abrupt:

Hey, when is the service?

I tell her it starts in 10 minutes.  DFSM cuts the call.

We carry on, ploughing through the passage.

20:20, and it’s DFSM again.

Hey, where is the service?  I am at Blahblahstrasse.

We talk her through how to get house group.  It is now 20:24.  I have had a strenuous week month.  My patience is starting to grow as thin as my hair…

20:30 DFSM arrives.

Her 2-year-old child in tow.

Nobody says a thing.  Maybe they have other thoughts, but they keep it zipped.  Nobody wants to make a fuss.  I bite my lip.  I bite my tongue.

Group leader hands DFSM a bible.  DFSM seems puzzled.  Maybe, kann es sein, she thought she was coming to a service, where should could dump the reason for her Kindergeld onto others.  It’s house group, bible study, ma’am.  The study of the bible is the MoSCoW must-have part of house group.

Offspring screams.

Offspring shouts.

Offspring wanders round the flat, picking bric a brac up from our host’s bookcase.

We all politely smile and say how active offspring is.  I sit thinking about my day at work and how I was needing to share concerns and prayers.  It was not my intention to share babysitting duties.

20:45 Offspring is still screaming, shouting, wandering, climbing, touching and grabbing things.

20:46 Just like the tabloid investigative reporter, I make my excuses and leave, incisor teeth almost digging into tongue.

Bible study disrupted.  Offspring’s sleep pattern disturbed.  My blood pressure sky-high.  DFSM was content just to sit on the sofa and stare into space.  House group/bible study is meant to be participatory, not passive.  Not dump-your-kid on-“volunteers”-time.

Am I being too harsh?  Too un-Christian?  I checked with two friends of mine.  Even Billy agreed it was not appropriate to bring a 2-year-old to bible study at that time of evening.  Normally he will disagree with me on everything.  B in Oz, a mother of a 2-year-old, also agreed with me.  She said a child of that age should be in bed very latest at 8pm.

If you can’t achieve your aims at bible study (namely to, er study the bible), is there any point in coming?  The evening becomes not fit for purpose.  A Rolls-Royce is a nice luxury car, but it’s not suitable for ploughing a field, like a tractor would be.

Clearly, we do want to help struggling members of congregation, but not at all costs.  Would it therefore be more appropriate for members of congregation to invite DFSM out for a Kaffee und Kuchen one-to-one or to a women’s prayer group that meets daytime?  Can we create a win-win situation for all concerned?  Rant over.

man wearing brown suit jacket mocking on white telephone

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Have a care-bearing day, won’t you!