Suggestion Box Problems
Revd Derek Butler walked through the body of the church, heading towards the Vestry Meeting, with their new Suggestion Box held under his arm. The Vestry Meeting wasn’t due to start for another five minutes but he knew they would have already begun, discussing their pet subjects and making their decisions. He didn’t care, he was used to it now.
Today, though, would be the first time they opened their new Suggestion Box; a polished wooden box placed in the church’s porch, where members of the congregation could leave written suggestions, anonymously or not. Derek hadn’t been in favour of it, anyone could push any suggestion into it without taking responsibility for it, but he had been out voted. Now would be the moment of truth, what kind of nonsense would be inside it. The box felt very light.
When he walked into the church’s office he was greeted by the full membership of the Vestry Meeting, no one missing today. The head of the table was empty, waiting for him, on the right hand sat his wife Maureen. Next to her was sat Ruth Delany, the church’s curate, dressed as she always was in jeans and an oversized jumper, with her dog-collar poking out of the top of it. Opposite them sat the two church wardens; Jeffrey Charles, in a tweed jacket and one of his many ties that vaguely looked like it was from some old school or other, and Mrs Penny Jones, in a pale summery dress and a very ugly green cardigan (It was very important to remember she was a “Mrs”, or else she would remind you at length).
With a nod to everyone there, he took his seat at the head of the table.
“Good to see you, Vicar,” Jeffrey Charles said. “We’ve already talked about...”
“I think we’ll start with the first item on the agenda,” Derek said. If he had to put up with this Suggestion Box then they were going to have to listen to him, not give him everything already decided upon.
The rest of them muttered things but no one disagreed with him.
“The first item is the Suggestion Box,” Penny Jones said.
“Which I have here,” Derek said. “Let’s see what’s inside,” he added, aware of the sarcasm in his voice.
He quickly opened it and tipped out the contents onto the table. An old button and a creased piece of paper fell out.
“Not a great deal there,” Jeffrey Charles said.
“Let’s see what it says,” Derek said, picking up the piece of paper. He expected it to be a complaint about the coffee served in the church hall, which was what most people usually complained about.
He read out loud: “Thousands have left the Finnish Lutheran church in protest against an anti-gay campaign which called for gay people to turn straight. Won’t it be great if Christians had the same moral backbone in Britain and left the church over its homophobia?”
Derek looked up from the paper and said: “What an odd thing to suggest.”
“Not after your sermon on Sunday,” Maureen replied. Derek held back from snapping at her. Since she’d started that Open University course, encouraged by their daughter Kate and Ruth Delany, she was had always contradicting him.
“That sermon was about Christian marriage and how important it is,” Derek replied.
“And people need to be reminded that it’s the bedrock of our society,” Penny Jones added.
“But it alienated anyone who wasn’t in a heterosexual marriage. You made it sound like if you’re not straight and married you’re not worth anything,” Ruth Delany said.
“I didn’t,” Derek protested but he was interrupted by Jeffrey Charles saying:
“People need to be told that. If they’re not married with a family, they’re not fulfilling their Christian duty.”
“That’s what I meant. That’s what’s alienating people,” Ruth Delany said.
“Nonsense!” Jeffrey Charles said. “We don’t have any homosexuals in the congregation.”
“We have two lesbian couples, a gay couple and several LGBT singles,” Ruth Delany said.
“Who?” Penny Jones said. “I know everyone in church.”
“I’m not saying. You talk to people and get to know them.”
“We don’t need to be pandering to any perverts. We need to be standing up for Christian values,” Jeffrey Charles said.
“’Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me.’ The Gospel of Matthew,” Ruth Delany said.
“The Church is haemorrhaging members, parishes are merging or closing because they just don’t have enough any members,” Maureen added.
“Yes, we know,” muttered Penny Jones.
“If we can’t welcome someone who’s different what can we do? Jesus condemned the Pharisees for only loving their own kind,” Ruth Delany said.
“I don’t need a Sunday School lesson,” Penny Jones replied.
“But we’re ignoring what that note says,” Ruth Delany continued. “We’re not just ignoring a section of society, we’re condemning them. That note condemns us for our hypocrisy. We’re not even discussing it, we’re arguing about sexuality and so closing our doors to anyone who’s different to us. We’ll wake up one day and find no one listens to us or even comes to our churches. We’ll make ourselves redundant.”
“That’s enough Ruth,” Derek interjected. “We’ve had enough of your preaching. This note is just making mischief. We should ignore it because it says nothing of importance to this church.” He could feel his cheeks flushing red, he was tired of this whole subject. “What’s the next item on the agenda?”
“Our falling congregation numbers and what we’re going to do about it,” Maureen said. “There’s twenty-five percent less people attending then there was this time last year.”