Jan, who does the biscuits, and Mary who has a bit of a short temper, were setting out chairs in the hall for a Mother’s Union meeting. Jan paused and looked like she wanted to say something. She rarely ever spoke, but when she did it was usually something worth saying.
“Mary,” she started. “What’s a blessing?”
Mary loved being asked questions. It made her feel that the other person thought that she might have the answer. And Mary loved having the answer. She loved giving her opinion and correcting others about theirs. But when it came to faith, she was a bit shaky. Mary was a life-long card-carrying Christian. She attended every service, knew the service booklet word for word and really did love Jesus. But if there was one area she was uncharacteristically reluctant to be an authority on, it was her faith. And this made her feel quite flustered.
“Reverend John said he’d be popping by later Jan, why don’t you save that question for him?”
Mary carried on shuffling chairs around, but Jan seemed to have not heard her, and continued her line of enquiry.
“I’m on about the offering. When the vicar is handed the plate at the altar…who’s actually blessing the gifts? Is our contribution on the plate blessed by the vicar, or is it being blessed by God?”
Mary felt annoyed that she couldn’t think of anything at all to say to this. She was annoyed with herself, and also mildly annoyed with poor Jan who couldn’t have possibly known that Mary would have such an aversion for talking about faith.
“That’s a tricky one Jan it really is, but I see we’re still 12 chairs short and they won’t unstack themselves.” But Jan simply continued asking about blessings whilst unstacking chairs. At this point Natalie from the Youth Group arrived with two more ladies from the Mothers Union and Mary seized her opportunity.
“Ladies, Jan has a really interesting question for you. I’m going to put the kettle on.”
Jan, Natalie and the other ladies from Mother’s Union sat in the seats they’d just put out, and considered the question. Natalie put it to Jan that we can’t just assume God blesses what we give, or indeed blesses anything. We can only ask for His blessing. “So,” said Natalie “I think our offering blessed by the Vicar.”
“I don’t know,” said one of the ladies from the Mother’s Union (no-one knew their names and it was far too late in the game to ask) “I think we can assume some things are blessed, because Jesus said so.” Well played, thought Natalie, well played. “Jesus said so” is a great trump card.
The MU lady went on, “He said ‘It’s more blessed to give than to receive’ and He also said ‘Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.’ And then there’s the Beatitudes where Jesus lists all sorts of folks who are blessed, like the poor in spirit, the meek, mourners, the merciful and that. Jesus said it, so can’t we just assume it’s always true?”
Game, set and match to the lady from MU. Very well put. The others were impressed. Mary was hovering by the entrance with a tray of tea and wondered if she could divert the topic onto safer ground, like the recent scandal about the craft tables and all that glitter.
Before she could intervene, Natalie asked Jan, “What’s brought this up?”
Jan said, “Well last Sunday, I was a bit late and I forgot to pick up a hymn book on my way in. I just rushed to a free pew. The back 10 rows were all full, so I had to sit near the front, near that new couple. Now, I knew most of the hymns, mind you, but I’d never heard the offertory one. So when we got to that one, I mimed for a bit then just looked around.
“And that’s when I saw Rev John mouth something when he got the offertory plate. I thought to myself ‘I’ve never seen him do that before.’ I suppose I’m normally looking down at my hymn book. I wanted to ask him what he’d said but I thought it might be private. So when I got home I popped in on Mr Connor, that Catholic that lives near me, ‘cos he knows everything, and I had to return a Pyrex dish I’d borrowed, and anyway he told me that Rev John was probably blessing our contributions. That’s what got me wondering about blessings.”
At that moment Rev John walked in carrying huge number of shopping bags, an umbrella and a puppet of King Herod. He had his vestments draped over one shoulder and his car keys between his teeth. A standard assortment of accoutrements for Rev John. Putting them all down in turn he flopped onto one of the spare seats and said “Hullo ladies,” in his usual jolly way.
Mary seized her opportunity. “Rev John, we were just discussing what a blessing is,” this was a slight departure from the truth as Mary had yet to say a single thing about it, but never mind that, “and Jan here didn’t know what that private thing you say over the plate might be, but she was too afraid to ask.” Mary had a way of being divulging rather more than people would like, whilst expertly distancing herself from ambiguity or doubt.
Rev John felt wounded at the thought of anyone not wanting to ask him something. Poor Jan. She looked very embarrassed. He felt doubly wounded that anyone might think anything he did at the altar might be private. Didn’t people know he was blessing the gifts? It was a public prayer.
“I’m awfully sorry Jan. It’s a blessing I say. It goes something like, ‘Yours, Lord is the greatness the power, the glory etc. etc. and everything in heaven and on earth is yours.’ Then I lift up the plate and say ‘All things come from you, and of your own we give you.’”
By the looks on everyone’s faces, this was news to them too. How? Ah, the offertory hymn! They’re always looking down at their books. It dawned on him. No wonder Jan didn’t know. For a horrid moment Rev John wondered if his beloved congregation actually knew that God blessed their generosity at all. Did they make a connection between giving and faith? Had he ever made it clear? No, he probably hadn’t. But he had an idea. Leaping to his feet he took Jan’s hand in both of his and shook it and said, “Thank you! Jan thank you! It’s clear now. I know what I’ve got to do.”
And at that he dashed off leaving the group of women quite startled and confused.
Very Rev John.