The Archdeacon laid aside his Sudoku puzzle, stretched and looked out of his study window to see if his 10 a.m. appointment was coming up the tree-lined road. It was summertime and the mature lime trees were in full leaf, looking beautiful as always, but making it difficult for parkers to get out of their cars in the confined spaces. The trees had grown to their full size, their roots causing the paving stones on the path to lift and separate. It really could be quite dangerous. I must ring the council and let them know, thought the Archdeacon, nobly reaching towards his old, oak desk to retrieve a pen so he could write himself a reminder note.
This particular Archdeacon was missing his parish; the beautiful church overlooking the town, the commodious rectory and most of all, his flock. It was a large parish and a lot of thank you letters to write once he had accepted the promotion from Rector and Rural Dean to Archdeacon three years previously.
The Bishop had assured him that he was ‘just the man for the job’ and this was borne out by the number of phone calls to ‘see how he was getting on’, that he received in the six months after he left. An Archdeacon no longer has a parish of his own. He lives in a church house; in this case a beautiful one, built to a high standard in the 1920’s and he is responsible for the whole archdeaconry. Archdeaconries vary in size. Our particular Archdeacon is in charge of an archdeaconry with nine deaneries in it and each deanery has up to twenty-nine parishes in it, all with their own Vicar, Priest-in-charge or Rector. That’s three hundred churches, up to three hundred Vicars and six hundred Church Wardens. That’s a lot of responsibility so the Bishop has to be very careful that he does pick the ‘right man for the job’.
Of course with all the cut-backs, sometimes one Vicar has to cover up to four churches, but that would mainly be in the country districts.
The Archdeacon’s house is situated in the centre of a busy town although you would never know it if you took your tea on the lawn in his well- manicured back garden. A gardener was employed to come once a week and keep the weeds under control. In reality he did much more than that, assuming that he was storing up points in heaven for when he eventually parked his lawn-mower in St. Peter’s garden shed.
The hierarchy of the Church of England is very rigid and so once you get the call to higher office, off you go. Mostly Vicars move on every so many years, each time taking on a larger parish, until they are deemed experienced and responsible enough to become a Rural Dean. This post extends their duties as Rector of their own parish and prepares them for future promotions.
Once our Archdeacon was in post, he became the Bishop’s right-hand man and he was quick to learn the intricacies of the job. Apart from being the first point of call when one of his many Vicars had a problem, he was also responsible for the annual inspections of the many beautiful and ancient buildings that grace the English countryside in his own particular archdeaconry.
To help him in his daily work, he had a part-time secretary, to whom he gave the accolade ‘The Real Archdeacon’ because, in his humble opinion, she did all the work! This faithful soul kept all his appointments up to date, typed the many letters, organised the annual Visitation of Church Wardens and was always on hand to intercept telephone calls when she was able to shield her boss from the most unnecessary intrusions. Perhaps her biggest task was sorting out the annual inspections. There was just time in one day for the Archdeacon to do three inspections. However, with three hundred ancient buildings to visit, it was vital that all three were near to each other. She couldn’t allow her Archdeacon to criss-cross the Deaneries in a haphazard fashion. Sounds easy? Well it wasn’t. It was an almost impossible task, but one that the faithful secretary took in her stride.
August was approaching and with it came the Archdeacon’s birthday. Each year the secretary bought him something he would really enjoy. This year she decided to buy him a bottle of gin. He can take it with him on holiday and drink it on the beach, she decided, feeling generous because the cost of the gin would make quite a hole in her weekly wage. He works so hard, he deserves it! She justified the cost to herself.
The secretary knew that the Archdeacon’s holiday with his wife and family was to coincide with his birthday the following week, so that night she stopped off at the local supermarket and bought the biggest bottle of gin she could afford and some pretty paper to wrap it in together with an appropriately sober birthday card. As she wrapped the present up that evening, she pictured him opening it and relishing the partaking of it. This happy thought brought a smile to her face.
Next day she carried the present carefully in to work, setting it on his desk in a prominent position. He’ll probably think it’s a bottle of Ribena, she surmised. She wasn’t trying to curry favour; she was just grateful for her job, which gave her the opportunity to work flat out for four mornings a week and any extra hours she could manage for free. She didn’t work Fridays so this would be her last opportunity to wish the busy man a happy holiday and clear up all the many loose ends from his untidy desk before he made his departure the following Saturday.
The Archdeacon was surprised and pleased with the unexpected gift and after due thanks, he moved it to a safer place than his untidy desk, to a corner of the sideboard in the dining room.
‘Don’t forget to pack it, will you? It’s meant for you to enjoy while you’re away,’ said the secretary.
‘No, I certainly won’t,’ he replied.
The last morning passed in a flurry of letters dictated and typed. Of course there were twice as many phone calls as usual and an emergency to deal with when suddenly a loud crash caused the Archdeacon to look out of his window. He watched in astonishment as a runaway car rolled down the hill without a driver and came to rest with a loud bang and a shattering of glass right against the front of a safely parked car further down the slope.
‘Oh my God!’ exclaimed the Archdeacon forgetfully. ‘She must have forgotten to put the handbrake on when she parked it!’
‘She?’ replied the secretary quizzically. ‘How do you know it was a she?’
The Archdeacon looked a tad embarrassed and sheepish when he realised he was being sexist.
‘Well whoever’s car it was that rolled into the other one, he’ll probably get away with it because from where I’m sitting it looks like the other car bashed into his!’ observed the secretary remembering that it was deemed the fault of the person behind when an accident such as this occurred.’
‘Maybe,’ replied the Archdeacon, hoping he wouldn’t be asked to be a witness. He refrained from calling the police, but remained on the alert for developments.
During the two weeks that the Archdeacon was away, his industrious secretary worked hard. She got to grips with the mountain of filing and shredding and then set about sorting through the annual inspection returns. There was a complicated spread-sheet to design, where in to show the results and a number of new Churchwardens’ Handbooks to send out. This of course involved a lot of wrapping up and carrying of heavy boxes to the Post Office, which naturally she did after her working hours were over so as not to waste valuable time spent in the office doing more important things!
All the while she worked, the Archdeacon’s cat kept her company, leaving little presents under her desk for her to clear up when she got in each morning and once or twice an even larger and smellier present in the hallway or under the settee where even the longest broom handle was unable to reach.
The faithful secretary took all this in her stride and looked forward to the return of her boss and his family in due course.
On his return the Archdeacon was tanned and refreshed and full of his adventures at the seaside. At coffee-time he showed his secretary the lovely photographs he’d taken on the beach, in front of the guest house and walking on the seafront, his family looking happy and relaxed complete with sun-hats and ice-creams. The weather had been warm and pleasant and not too hot to take advantage of the beach whenever possible, he told her as she smoothed her lank hair away from her white cheeks, which had not seen the sun since the day the old King died.
‘It’s hard to get back in gear after two weeks away,’ sighed the Archdeacon as he picked up the mountain of mail that was waiting for him on his desk.
‘Indeed’, said the secretary. She had been sure to sort the mail so that the most urgent letters to be answered were on the top of the pile.
‘Are there many e-mails?’ he asked, reaching for the dictating machine.
The secretary smiled encouragingly at him and opened up the Inbox containing the latest collection of e-mails. Most of them were from the usual addresses: the Diocesan Office, the Bishop, several applications for appointments from the clergy. One unusual address caught the diligent secretary’s eye. It was from a guest house in Sandy Bay, where the Archdeacon and his family had spent the last two happy weeks.
‘Dear Archdeacon’, it read… ‘I am writing to thank you for the very generous gift of a large bottle of Gordon’s gin. It was most unexpected and welcome and I want you to know how much Ted and I appreciate the gift. After you left I found your mobile phone charger, which I will send on to you when I can get to the Post Office. It may not be till the end of the week because my leg is playing up again, but I assure you, I’ll send it on as soon as I can.’
‘Well I never!’ exclaimed the secretary, her cheeks flushing with annoyance. She carefully printed all the emails and took them in to the Archdeacon with the one from the guest house on the top. The Archdeacon read that one first.
‘Damn!’ he exclaimed when he’d read it.
A Bible, which was perched precariously on the corner of his desk suddenly broke free of its constraints and fell with a thud to the floor causing the Archdeacon’s coffee cup to fly out of his hand and spill its hot contents all down his trousers.
‘Damn, damn, damn.’
The next day the Archdeacon was at a Property Meeting at the Diocesan Office. His secretary arrived punctually in her office at 9 a.m. and sat down at her desk. She picked up the map of the nine deaneries, which was awaiting the planning of the annual church inspections. With her longest ruler she measured the distances between the churches taking care to make sure that the three daily inspections she was going to arrange were as far away from each other as possible. Then she started her list.
That should do it she thought as she stroked the Archdeacon’s cat behind its ears. The cat purred loudly. Was that a smile on its face?
This was an Archdeacon’s Story from Oma’s library.