The Church of England, Vrystaat Outpost of the British Empire Division, in its small sandstone building in Harrismith – off the beaten track, not even in the shadow of the tall, imposing Kerk of the Chosen People in the square which sat smack in the middle of Warden Street, interrupting the flow, forcing ox-wagons and later automobiles to go AROUND it – had a big problem:
Dwindling membership and a severe shortage of people able to serve the Queen and the Home Country – oh, and the Lord – as deacons.
Not a new problem, this shortage had occupied the minds of these good Colonialists even before the darned Nationalists had taken over Colonial Rule in 1948 and the death of their dear King George in 1952. Long gone were the days when the mayor or a few councillors might occupy these pews (and speak English at town meetings!). Everyone who was anyone now sat in the Kerk pews of a Sunday and listened to thundering donder n bliksem sermons of power and guilt (and what one could quite legitimately do to the sons of Ham) up the road.
Part of the problem was those families who might cough up good English deacons sent their sons away. Hilton, Michaelhouse, St Andrews, Treverton. You know, good Church schools (yes, some of them might be Methodist, but one has to make do out here in the Colonies). Trouble was, these good schools cured them of any desire to spend more Sundays on cold, hard wooden benches. So what to do?
A thought: What about young Clive Oswald? An approving murmur started up among the little group of Church elders, a quiet buzz . . . He had recently returned to the district to join his father and mother on the farm. Young, good-looking, polite, capable, why it was like manna sent from . . .
“Has his shadow ever darkened the door of this church!?” boomed a voice.
Belonging to Joan Simpson. Dairy farmer. Long-serving deacon. Anglophile. Known for sleeping on her bed on the open porch of the farmhouse she shared with her sister Vera. Year-round, even in Harrismith’s freezing winter. And for delivering milk in big metal cans on the back of her grey Morris Minor pickup – made in England, what. And for wearing khaki trousers at all times. Occasionally a dress to a MOTH do. She’d served in the war.
Well, that settled that question. Tabs Fyvie was safe. England expects every Church of England to do its duty and die quietly, fizzling away with dignity.
Joan is probably in this picture somewhere: