Fighting the good fight

In the world of internet dating, it is all too easy to become cynical, with the endless parade of unsatisfactory online encounters.

It is full of pitfalls for those souls who are genuine, such as an endless list of excuses, for when people have simply changed their minds: I work too hard, I am too obsessed with Twitter, or with my cats, have too many books, or even spend too much time in church.

It is therefore all the more exhilarating when an online dating encounter proceeds to a real world one where they not only accept all of that, but that the conversation itself is of such rarefying intellectual audacity that it takes my breath away.

One such conversation occurred recently, when instead of jumping to an instant judgment, I was actually asked the innocuous question “why do you spend so much time in church?”

To give myself time to think, I employed a technique I have often used on live radio interviews, pausing for two seconds before giving my response. “Well”, I said. “I roll up there on a Sunday morning, often scruffy and unshaven from having worked half the night, sit up front - because being Anglicans, we fill up from the back and that’s the only place in church where there is a seat.”

“And I sit there,” leaning forward for emphasis, “surrounded by people who are undoubtedly more holy than I am. And I get great encouragement from that.”

Church is a place where instead of scowling in a classically English passive aggressive manner, they smile at me when I roll up late, pleased that I am there at all.

Free flowers being given away outside an Abingdon church, for Mothering Sunday

Free flowers being given away outside an Abingdon church, for Mothering Sunday

And it is amongst my sisters and brothers I will sit this forthcoming Mothering Sunday, undoubtedly full of thoughts of those who have gone before me, who have made me who I am. It has been twenty-five years since my own mother died, taken well before her three score years and ten. Every year, instead of getting easier, it actually gets harder.

For all its faults, the church’s celebration of the inclusively named Mothering Sunday is a beautiful thing, rather than the more secular and commercially orientated Mothers’ Day, with its choice of where to place the apostrophe on the advertising material.

But this week in church, it is not only Mothering Sunday, it is also the tenth anniversary of my father’s death and the bishop is coming to confirm and to preside at Holy Communion. It is a kind of perfect storm of significance.

Confirmation is a liturgy used to confirm baptismal vows, in a church where these are often made on our behalf, as children. Mine were made more than half a century ago. More than twenty years later, I had promised for myself to fight valiantly against sin, the world and the devil. The latter two I am still doing quite well at: the first, not so well.

But I am still fighting the good fight and still keeping the faith.