Deep in the heart of Lower Strangling’s infamous and unique Botanic Garden, lied a small rectangular courtyard. It had a pond and a lawn, with beautiful borders filled with colour on either side, and its own sundial.
It is here, where the Reverend Simon Abernathy liked to sit underneath one of the duck egg blue benches in the courtyard, and meditate whenever a stressful situation arose. Which, what with him being a C of E Vicar, was pretty much all the time.
He left the Vicarage at about 6:00 in the morning, before the garden was open the public, and ventured through the pathways and underneath the tool shed, before entering into the courtyard and sitting on a bench, making sure to bless the little model of the Virgin Mary above him by orders of the Pope.1
Today, Simon decided to meditate in the courtyard in order to recover from a chilling dream he’d had the night before.2 Spending time alone surrounded by vast hills and countryside, with the dawn chorus in the background, definitely did the trick.
But it wasn’t just the dream that Simon was trying to get out of his mind, as he was having yet another crisis of faith. It wasn’t that he was beginning to doubt the existence of God, it was more how he should respond to the news that the Independent Enquiry into Child Sex Abuse report concluded that the Church of England didn’t do enough to protect children and young people from sexual abuse, often giving more support to the abusers than the victims, and therefore contributed to their trauma.
Of course, the connection between the church and paedophilia was nothing new, and was one of the many challenges Simon had to face being a left-leaning Vicar, alongside the Church’s response to divorce, homosexuality, abortion, and why there seems to be so much suffering in the world.
Simon had so far managed to deal with those issues well, but this report made him wonder whether things were going to far; is the Church of England really a great institution to work for?
“Of course, your will be done and all that,” Simon said to the man upstairs, “but when is enough, enough?”
Simon looked directly ahead of him, closed his eyes, and inhaled deeply. He felt an instant sense of calm, and was ready to start the day. But he had unfinished business to do in the courtyard first.
“I mean, I don’t have doubts about following you, that’s not the issue here,” Simon continued, “it’s in what context should I follow you. You know, should St Gerald’s the Damned become Methodist? Or perhaps we should veer towards paganism?”
Simon sat in silence for a few moments, but then he got his answer. He was a Church of England Vicar in Lower Strangling because God wanted him to be such. To be anything other would be going against God’s vision and his will. God’s followers on Earth were human, and humans were inherently flawed.
Of course, this was always the outcome every time Simon had doubts, but it was good to get a reminder every now and then.
Finally feeling refreshed, Simon got up and left the courtyard, and went to the church.
Inside St Gerald the Damned, Simon lit a candle in front of an image of music icon and political activist Harry Taylor. Today is what would have been Harry’s 80th birthday, had he not been shot by some lunatic in New York almost 40 years before. Simon felt he needed to light a candle to mark the occasion, especially since he was something of a hero to the vicar.
Harry was part of the Ants, Simon’s favourite band, and Harry was his favourite member. Simon agreed with Harry’s fight for peace, but was slightly disappointed when Harry started claimed the Religion was the problem, having been a devout Christian all his life.
Despite taking the different path to his icon, Simon still admired Harry, and was shocked by his passing, and so every year on Harry’s birthday he lit a candle in his honour.
Once the candle had blown out, Simon put it and the photo away and left the church, ready to take on whatever it threw at him.
1See The Virgin Mary Situation.
2 The dream started out well enough, in fact, it was the best possible dream one could have in these trying times. Simon had started the morning like he usually did, and then turned on the morning news. He couldn’t believe what he saw. The Oxford COVID-19 vaccine had finally been created, and was ready to be handed out to the people. Much to Simon’s relief, the vaccine was to be delivered in a pill, not a needle injection. It then turned out that members of the Clergy were entitled to have the vaccine first, and so Simon rushed out of the Vicarage and drove to his GP.
There was no queue at the surgery, and so Simon was able to have his straight away. “Morning, your grace,” Simon said to the Bishop of Coventry who had just walked out of the doctor’s surgery having had the vaccine, “wonderful day today, isn’t it?”
“It is, yes”, the Bishop replied joyfully, before whispering into Simon’s ear whilst still observing a two metre distance, “the vaccine insertion is a bit awkward at first, but after a while it should be fine. The procedure is very quick, and is definitely worth it. God bless.”
With that, the Bishop left the surgery. Simon looked at him confused. What could possibly be so awkward about eating a pill? And what did he mean by “insertion” exactly? Before he had time to mull over the Bishops words, DR. Benjamin Williams, Simon’s GP, leaned out of the surgery door to welcome Simon.
“Reverend Abernathy?”, he said. Simon then entered the room.
“Well, Simon, are you excited about finally receiving the vaccine for this retched virus?” Benjamin asked the Reverend whilst putting on some arm length rubber gloves.
“I am, yes. Part of me was thinking there may never be a vaccine at all”, Simon replied, whilst observing the Doctors gloves.
“Yes, so did I. But, here we are,” Benjamin responded excitedly. He then picked up a small white capsule. Simon looked at the capsule, beginning to sweat; it can’t be, can it?
“Ok, can you pull down your trousers and your underwear and lie on your front on the operation table so I can insert the vaccine please?,” Benjamin asked the Vicar.
Simon gulped; the vaccine was a suppository, not an oral pill.
Deciding to grin a bear it, Simon did as the doctor asked, although he wasn’t liking it one bit.
“I’m just about to penetrate the anus now, reverend”, were the last words Simon heard his GP say before waking up in a cold sweat.
Simon sat up, hyperventilating, and then decided to get out of bed early.