Yet, despite her outer appearance of cold granite stone she had a heart of gold. She often contributed generously and secretly to any cause the Church was involved in and gave a lot of her time to singing at Mass on Sundays and on special occasions.
Miss Cartwright however was perhaps the exact opposite. She was youngish, short and … shall we say … well developed. She was always jovial and laughed a lot at the slightest thing. And when she laughed, her whole body would shake and wobble like an under-set jelly. She played the organ on Sundays and accompanied Mrs Parfitt’s singing as she led the choir.
Father Ignatius was in the Sacristy tidying up when he heard loud voices emanating from the church.
He went to investigate the cause of the commotion only to walk into a heated argument between the two ladies in question.
Mrs Davenport, the housekeeper, was arranging flowers on the altar with another helper and did not take part in the discussion.
“What is going on here ladies?” asked the priest calmly yet firmly.
“It is quite pointless practicing any singing Father if one does not have the facility of a competent organist!” said Mrs Parfitt in her very posh upper class accent.
“Are you calling me incompetent?” retorted Miss Cartwright bright red in the face like an over-ripe tomato.
“Well … if you can’t keep up with my singing … what would you call that?”
“For your information, the organist plays according to the music sheet, and it is up to the singer to keep up with the music and not the other way round …”
“Ladies … please … let us remember where we are …” pleaded Father Ignatius, “you remind me of the cow, the chicken and the pig …”
“Who are you calling a pig?” asked Miss Cartwright turning even redder in the face and wobbling like a strawberry jelly.
“I am calling no one a pig … nor anything else,” said the priest gently, “let’s sit down ladies and discuss this sensibly …”
At this point Mrs Davenport stopped what she was doing and encouraged her helper to come and sit with her in the front pew next to the two battling women.
Father Ignatius stood by the lectern resting his arm on it and said:
“There was once a cow, a chicken and a pig on a farm discussing the benefits of a good English breakfast.
“The cow extolled the virtues of good fresh cold milk poured over cereals, or used to make hot porridge. And then she regaled about the benefits of pure wholesome butter spread on toast, compared to margarine with all its synthetic additives. All in all, she was well pleased with her contribution to the English breakfast.
“The chicken explained how versatile her contribution could be … poached eggs, scrambled, fried, soft boiled and so on and so forth …
“The pig looked down and said nothing.
“ ‘Have you nothing to say about bacon?’ asked the chicken.
“ ‘All I have to say’ replied the pig, ‘is that you two are involved in the English breakfast; whereas I am fully committed!’ ”
Father Ignatius stopped for a few seconds; then he continued.
“I think we need to ask ourselves how committed we are to God when we visit Him here in church.
“It is nice of course that there are so many people willing to help with flower arranging, cleaning, playing the organ, singing and all the other jobs which exist in a church like this. I certainly couldn’t cope without all your help, and I’m very grateful.
“But is that what coming to church is all about? Being involved in the various jobs and events?
“Or do we come here to be fully committed to God? To thank Him for what He has done for us; and to receive Him in our hearts in the Eucharist.”
He paused again for a few moments and then went on.
“Did the disciples and the early church leaders worry too much about singing and who is to play the organ, I wonder?”
At this point, Mrs Davenport asked innocently “did they have electric organs in those days Father?”
The priest ignored the question and continued gently, “the disciples at the time were totally committed to our Lord Jesus Christ and were determined to spread His message to the point of death. And indeed, many died in pursuit of that commitment.
“Even today … there are many Christians throughout the world who meet secretly in each others’ homes to pray because Christianity is persecuted in their countries. Many are attacked and have died for being Christian. Do you think they worry whether they have enough flowers or the right music sheets?
“So let us come to church to be fully committed to God and not be distracted by other matters such as music, flowers and so on. Nice enough as they are, they are not the reason why we are here.
“Let us in all humility ask God what He wants of us.
“Let us say ‘Here I am Lord, it is I Lord. I have heard you calling me. I will go and do what you ask me … if you lead me!’ ”
Father Ignatius stopped talking and slowly made his way back into the Sacristy.
FATHER FRANCIS MAPLE