A Country VicarbyMattblackUK©
Simon Craig was proud of himself. And justifiably, too! He had a stew cooking in the Aga in the vicarage kitchen and had performed the Morning Eucharist to a surprisingly large congregation considering it had been held at 9am on a Thursday morning.
He had visited sick and elderly parishioners, giving kind words and prayers for those who wanted one and offering practical advice and help where he was able.
He was nearly a year into his first parish after four years as curate to a dipsomaniac but dedicated elderly vicar in Warwickshire. Whilst Simon was young for a vicar, he wasn't the youngest ever, at 28 years old.
He had a job today that he'd enjoy. Every July St Paul's Church ran a Summer Fête and Country Life Pageant, to celebrate rural life, and every year a committee of villagers got together to organise it, under the direction of the vicar.
The village pub, the Village Arms, provided food and drink. Under its ebullient landlord, Dan Spencer, it was expected to do the same, this year. Simon never left things to chance. He'd arranged a meeting with Dan at the pub at noon to go over the arrangements.
He strolled over the village green, passing the duck pond, the vicarage and the church. At one time Simon would have strode rapidly, but now he was content to amble, not hurry.
He'd learnt a lot since leaving home at 19, under a cloud. Even now the way he'd been treated by his parents, his father especially, and the circumstances under which he'd left home still rankled with him.
It was the anniversary of his leaving home and it was bothering him more than usual. It was the only fly in the ointment of his otherwise perfect life as a country vicar.
The Village Arms pub was a typical village pub. Or rather, typical of what a village pub used to be. The village itself was somewhat of a happy anachronism. Pottersbridge still had several shops and had managed to retain its Post Office.
It was prosperous and Simon realised that, although it had problems (minor graffiti on the bus stop which still -miraculously- had a bus service several times a day!) the village was living a charmed life.
As he opened the door into the large, well-appointed pub lounge, Dan was behind the bar, waiting for him. The customers used the public bar whilst they had their meeting.
"Morning, Simon!" he said, in his friendly tones. Dan was in his early, 40s a big man, handsome and married to Sue, who, although 'big-boned', was an extremely pretty woman, about the same age as Dan. They had two children of which they were both extremely proud.
"Morning, Dan!" replied Simon. After general pleasantries they sat either side of the bar, Dan drinking white wine and Simon a pint of IPA. Over a platter of sandwiches, they planned the fête.
They made rapid progress and soon had it mapped out. When Simon had arrived in the village Dan had given him what he'd described as a few home truths.
Whilst the Parochial Church Council were well-meaning, giving them an idea would be it's kiss of death. Even if it managed to escape, it would, probably bear no resemblance to the original idea.
Best, by far, said Dan, to present a solid idea listing those who'd have specific functions and duties. That way, he'd said, less chance of them wanting to suggest any 'improvements'!
By 2pm on that early Summer lunchtime it was decided who'd run which stalls. The Village Band would play, and it would be opened by a retired actor who lived locally and who had played a small, but recurring, role in The Archers in the 1970s.
Dan had tapped the notes into his Ipad and they congratulated themselves on a job well done.
Dan drew another pint for Simon and a glass of wine for himself, before saying: "Now that's dealt with, what about yourself? If you don't mind me saying, you looked a bit pensive, a little down?"
Simon accepted the drink with thanks and smiled. "You're a good landlord, Dan! I thought I hid my mood quite well! Obviously, not!"
Dan got himself another drink before replying. "The thing is Dan, I have a degree in Psychology. I practised as a psychologist for several years, but I'd always wanted to own and run a country pub. And so, with the help of my parents with some financial support, Sue and I bought the Village Arms and we were lucky enough to make a go of it."
Simon took a pull on his pint and shook his head. "I doubt luck had much to do with it, Dan. You are always doing something to pull customers in. Steak nights, curry nights, International cuisine nights, fish and chip suppers, quizzes, special lunches for pensioners, it's all hard word that's earned you and Sue your success!"
Dan thanked him and then said: "What about you, Simon, what's bugging you?"
Simon sighed. "It's nice you had the backing of your parents when you wanted to leave a good, safe profession as a psychologist to run a pub. I have to say when I announced to my parents that I wanted to become a vicar they were furious!
"When I say they were furious, I mean my father was furious. They were both atheists. My mum just didn't believe in God, but my father almost made a religion of not believing in God, if you see what I mean.
"Left to her own devices my mum would probably have just got on living a life without God in it, but my father seemed to have a need to push his religion, or rather, his lack of religion down the throats of everyone. He styled himself as a humanist and even set up a local Humanist Study Group in our town.
"He wrote scores and scores of letters to the local paper (probably still does!) critical of everything from noisy Church Bells to the fact that local churches would take part in Remembrance Day. He even outraged everyone by demanding the abolition of Remembrance Day, one year!"
"Oh," said Dan, nodding. "One of those types of atheists?"
"Yes," replied Simon. "One of those types! You can imagine how angry he was when I started to attend the Church of England Youth Group when I was fifteen! When I got Confirmed he nearly threw me out! And when I decided to go to Theological college when I was nineteen, he told me that as far as he and mum were concerned, I was dead to them!"
"Good Lord!" exclaimed Dan, shocked. "Obviously not a believer in freedom of religion, then? What did your mother think of this?"
"Not a believer in religious freedom, Dan! You're right! As for my mother, I think she went along with him because she was afraid of him. But to my knowledge, he's never hit her. Or me for that matter.
"But there always seemed to be an air of repressed rage about him. When he got on a hobby-horse, he'd get vile. When he spoke with people, he always spoke at them, not to them, it was like every word of his rants started with a Capital Letter!"
Dan shook his head. "Know the type! Liable to hit someone over the head with a peace placard! One thing you need to understand, is none of this is your fault. Your father's an idiot. But he'd have been an idiot whether he'd been an atheist or a believer.
"Though this is outside what I should say after this brief chat (we can talk more, later, if you wish) your mother must bear some responsibility. She shouldn't have allowed you to grow up in a dysfunctional home. That was unfair."
What should I do? Should I seek a rapprochement with my parents?" asked Simon.
Dan frowned, in thought. "Write to your mother, invite her and your father to stay with you at the vicarage. They can come, or not. The decision will be theirs."
They parted company with a handshake. Simon strolled back to the vicarage, buoyed by the chat he'd had with Dan and the several pints of IPA. He wrote to his mother and invited her to visit.
The fact she arrived, bruised, and in tears several days later with all her belongings in a self-drive van shocked him.
As did the news that eventually his father had turned violent, ironically on the eve of a peace gathering! Simon offered her room for as long as she needed it.
She asked if he'd mind her coming to a church service to see him at work? He grinned and invited her to come and take pride of place as his mother. Simon realised he was going to have a very interesting summer.