The bells rang up our tight valley and over the steep little hills encompassing the village, zipping up from the illuminated church. Houses twinkled with decorative strings and the odd torch worked its way down the dark streets, for this is a village which fiercely refuses to have street lights. I grabbed my warmest cap, it was time to go.
Inside the ancient church those who hadn’t posted Christmas cards through doors, handed them out to recipients and you could see the embarrassment of those who’d been caught out and now had to write yet more cards. Yes, this is dear old England.
I sat next to a woman with a friendly smile. The service began with a reading about Eve tasting the forbidden fruit and continued on to the tribe of Israel being given Jerusalem. Once it was over, I leaned over to my neighbour, “Now there’s two explosive problems which started with the Old Testament.”
“What do you mean?”
“Women are damned as sinners, Jerusalem belongs to those who left it two thousand years ago.”
She looked back with horror. Oops, I thought.
Later, when we were sat in the pews eating mince pies and sipping mulled wine, she said it was a wonderful time of the year when Jesus Is Born (her capitals). I said I didn’t believe. Again that look. But, I added, my wife did, she’s a Catholic, absent not for religious reasons, but the flu.
“Catholics condition their children to believe.”
I said we all do that. Once more that look. “Jesus never conditions, He draws us with His love.”
I bid farewell, stood to walk home, feeling a little wobbly. A man was asked to help me and as we walked away we discussed the service, he in spiritual rapture, me feeling warmly Xmasy. He suggested I attend the Christmas Day service, “Which is The Day Jesus (his capitals) came to Earth (mine).”
I said I might if there were carols.
This was met by, “As Christians, it is our Duty. That’s when our religion began.”
I retorted, instantly wishing I’d not. “Religion began long before Jesus and Abraham.”
“You are Christian, so it Started With Jesus.”
“I’m not sure I believe in a god.”
He stopped dead. “Oh my goodness! I feel so sorry for you.”
“Your life is empty without God.”
“My life is filled with the wonders of life.”
“They are God given.”
“To me all is explained by science.” I don’t usually contest another’s beliefs, but twice this evening Christian views had been blasted at me.
“Then what On Earth are you doing in Our Church!”
“Enjoying the atmosphere and the mid-winter celebrations.”
“That’s heathen. This is a Christian place.”
”It‘s a place of worship. Like most English churches, it was most likely built on a heathen holy site.” This, I knew, was going too far. I changed the subject, pointing at the stars, this was after all Mid Winter Week, conveniently altered to Christmas.
Happy Solstice! Happy Christmas! Happy Star gazing!
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