Today I blessed Burton’s Statutes Fair. A 600-year history I gather. The Mayor spoke, I blessed, children from Holy Trinity School prayed and cut the ribbon, and I splashed a lot of Holy Water about. There was no need of this actually, for plenty of the natural stuff was dropping as the unstrained quality of mercy.
On my way to the ‘green room’ beforehand I bumped into the President of the Showmen’s Association of Great Britain who pointed to the showmen’s prayer on the back of his card. I was wondering what I would say at the grand opening, having left my preparation in the hands of the Holy Ghost, and so this was a gift from heaven. ‘Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous’ Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, so this happenstance must prove that there is a God and that she was listening to my concerns.
The quote about coincidence is also attributed to Lauren Pederson, of whom I had not heard. Is it another name for Einstein? or vice versa? I wonder if Lauren and Albert were ever in the same room at the same time. Would that have been coincidence?
Anyhoo, back to the plot. The circus owner, who had himself been President of the Showmen’s Association, told me the story of how that prayer came to be. At an Association meeting in Rome, members were told gather in a certain place at a certain time. They were taken in a bus with police escort to the Vatican and in due course issued into the Presence. Lengthy and enthusiastic conversations ensued, and the chain of office much admired by His Holiness. That is where the prayer comes from, a product of Pope John Paul II.
Chatting to civic dignitaries after the Fair blessing, I was sounding them out about increasing the profile of S Modwen’s in the town, and how best to make it known that the church was at the service of the town and everyone in it. After all, the building is in the Market Square, and it’s a real shame that it’s locked most of the time. The dignitary was sympathetic and helpful, but agreed that we are up against the widely held perception that the church was standoffish and stuck up. Whether this was a perception of the Church of England as a whole, or of that church in particular, he didn’t know, and neither do I. But I know well enough that it is widely held in Burton. Curiously, the same thing was said to me in similar circumstances in Portlaoise about the Church of Ireland.
I remember the first time that it really dawned on me that perceptions were often more important than facts, because it’s perceptions that we have to deal with. It was at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland when a colleague and I were discussing some issue that was causing great student unrest. My colleague was holding to facts, while I said facts didn’t much matter because what we had to counter were widely held perceptions.O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us! It wad frae mony a blunder free us, An’ foolish notion: What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us, An’ ev’n devotion!
We have work to do.