A few years ago, I was on a radio show where the presenter had this technique of throwing in a surprise, unrelated question at the end of an interview about something else. "How many hours a week do you work?" he asked. "About sixty to ninety, mate," I cheerfully replied. There was a palpable silence while he took it in and then I explained that more than half of it is waiting, rather than actual driving and that there are plenty of opportunities for breaks.
In semi rural Oxfordshire, the level of taxi business is very cyclical around monthly pay dates and also seasonal. This week, we began the first full week of the school holidays, when income goes down across all sources of business. People are making fewer journeys and there is visibly less traffic on the roads at all of the most notorious local pressure points.
For me, the extra time available in the summer holidays does give an opportunity for a more considered practice of my faith than is usually the case, given the daily struggle to earn a living. It is regularly difficult to get to church on a Sunday morning, due working much of the previous night until the early hours. Nearly always, I am also the last one to arrive, sneaking in at the back, instantaneously speaking the words of the liturgy, as familiar to me as an old friend.
Recently arriving at church early, I was thrown into an internal panic, having been approached by one of The Church Ladies, who was on the rota to read. It was immediately obvious she had lost her voice and could I read, from the prophecy of Isaiah and – something completely unknown to me, with my nonconformist, then evangelical slightly charismatic Anglican background – a responsorial Psalm! That’s where the reader reads a section of the Psalm and the congregation responds with a verse from the Psalm, each time.
When faced with an intensely nervous situation like this, a natural response is to go through the reading as quickly as possible. It’s not that I am even inexperienced at it – I first read in church in a 1974 carol service and have been called upon on many subsequent occasions. It was just that I was unprepared for it. Public reading is not usually something I can just get up and do, for me, it requires preparation - prayer and rehearsal, mainly. Nonetheless, I said yes immediately.
During the time I have been attending this weekday lunch time Mass in Abingdon, I have become very fond of the souls who make up this small gathering of The Faithful. The Church Ladies are stalwarts of the church: keepers of the faith for year after year and from one one generation to the next.
They are living repositories of wisdom, from whom I have benefitted enormously and they bake great cakes. And all thriving churches know the importance of cake in effective Christian ministry.