Another Sunday, and a beautiful one at that. It was one of those days that made believing in God so very easy. When the wind was warm and soft, and the sun was high and there was nothing urgent that needed doing that day. A pleasant hush lay over the village like a favourite blanket. It was only the start of summer, so the trees were still a vibrant green from the spring rains and the children hadn’t worn out their parents’ nerves yet. A Sunday that people dreamed off, the Sunday that everyone imagined when they were asked ‘What’s your perfect Sunday?’.
Most of the village was turning out for church. Whether they all believed or not was another matter. The vicar knew, as he watched another family meander past his house and up the church drive, that a good number of people came just for the tradition of it, or to catch up with their neighbours. He wasn’t about to crack down on that though. For a start it was disheartening to preach to an empty void and besides, if they turned up often enough maybe it would trickle through and they’d start to have faith.
As he was checking his appearance in the mirror his mind wandered, only to brought back by a burst of a child’s laughter from outside the window. He couldn’t put it off for long. Soon he’d have to make his way across the street and to his pulpit.
“Are you going to do it then?” The voice made him jump and he spun around. His wife- always a quiet mover- was leaning against the door-frame of their bedroom and she laughed at him. “Don’t look so guilty. Not from me.” She came in and reached up to cup his cheek. “Are you?”
“Yes. I think I have to.” He couldn’t met her eyes as he said it though, and his fingers kept playing with the hem of his shirt. It was a decision that could well end their peaceful life in this little village, and it broke his heart that he had to do that to her. She deserves so much better, but there was only so long he could keep quiet.
“Okay then. I’ll be there, if you need me.” She stood on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek before she turned and left. Years of experience spoke of her worry even when her words didn’t. The way she held her shoulders tight, the way she chewed her lip and kept making endless cups of tea… he hadn’t seen her that bad since her father had been admitted to the hospice.
And it was all his fault. She definitely deserved better.
There was no helping it though. They couldn’t keep going like this. With a sigh he slipped on his clerical collar and headed out.
Mrs Gillespie met them at the entrance to the churchyard. “Morning vicar!” she croaked, with a simple nod to his wife as well.
“Good morning Mrs Gillespie. How’s your leg doing?”
“Much better now, thank you for asking.”
Damn. It had been half the reason he was going to do it today, because chances were that Mrs Gillespie would still be bed-ridden from her dodgy knee. Maybe he should postpone it… no. If he did that today he’d just keep doing it forever, always finding a good excuse. There was nothing for it, so with a strained smile he offered his arm to the aged parishioner, who took it without a thought. On the way up the rest of the path she rattled on about her family, in particular all the scandalous things they were getting up to recently, which was a pleasant distraction from the scandalous thing he was about to do.
In the church the turnout was a little higher than average. There wasn’t any excuse not to turn up today, and it wasn’t as if there was anything else to do. The pub owner was a church regular- and an actual believer- so The Fox’s Den wouldn’t be open until the service was over anyway. The shops didn’t bother to open on Sundays, and that was about all there was in the village. Scenic as the views were, there was only so long you could spend walking about drinking in the views.
On his way down the aisle the vicar took nods and greetings from his flock. In return he’d smile and nod back, but his heart was going a hundred miles an hour. It felt like a walk to an execution block. No, a court stand, and everyone else in the room would be his jury. Including judgemental Mrs Gillespie, who’d he’d dumped in the first seat he thought he could get away with.
Up in the pulpit he felt more isolated than ever. Some of the other vicars he knew talked about how humbling it was to be elevated above the others, and the weight of responsibility they felt. But for him it had always been a lonely place, and he felt as though he was going to fall at any moment.
The low humdrum of talking died down. For a fleeting moment his nerve went and he cleared his throat to begin a standard sermon. Then he caught the eye’s of his wife at the back of the room. He couldn’t do that to her. He couldn’t make her wait any longer.
“Ladies and gentlemen.” Maybe if he just spoke, without thinking through his words, it would be easier. “Friends, I hope. Before I start my sermon today I would like to make an announcement. It will probably be shocking to most of you, and those of you in the stronger faith may have issue with it.” At this it was hard to not look at Mrs Gillespie, who’d been so scathing of the daughter-in-law who’d had an abortion. Oh God, Mrs Tattersall was there as well, two rows in front of Mrs Gillespie. She was just as bad; the pair of them would sit at the bus stop and judge everyone who went past. Better to rip the plaster off though. “Please feel free to leave today if it upsets you, and I’ll leave details out at the back for who you can contact if you feel the need to talk about it.”
That was a terrible way to start. Now the hall was full of the low hush of a dozen whispers, as people tried to predict what he was going to say. Like a black hole his eyes were drawn to Mrs Gillespie’s, and she squinted down the aisle at him. The vicar had to swallow several times before he could continue.
“Please, everyone. I wish to say my piece. Then, for today, I will continue with the sermon.” Silence had returned but that made it no easier to talk. “Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to inform you, that I am gay.”
A single word, a fairly tiny fact in his life, yet spoken to a room full of a divided religion. There were plenty of priests who’d come out, but they had been in the cities where people tended to be more forgiving and open-minded. Out here there was no telling what would the opinion would be.
The buzz was back now, tinged with excitement from the small-village folk to whom this was the most exciting thing to have happened for a month, and confusion from the children, who immediately turned to their parents and asked a dozen questions. Overall though there was a feeling of acceptance. A few smiles from some of the younger people present, a shrug from one of the middle aged men who settled back down for his weekly nap.
Relief flooded his system as he looked to the back of the hall for his wife. Before he found her though he caught the eye of Mrs Gillespie. Slowly, creaking like a ship under sail, she stood up and pulled herself to her full height. The people beside her noticed the expectant air around her and hushed, the ripple spreading across the hall. Soon everyone was quiet and looking at Mrs Gillespie.
Make or break time. Would she let him stay on, or would she demand a replacement who followed their scripture to the letter?
With a stern frown she jabbed her crooked finger out. But she wasn’t pointing at the vicar. Instead she was pointing at Mrs Tattersall.
“You owe me a fiver, Gloria,” Mrs Gillespie barked, before she slumped back into her seat.
In the stunned silence that followed the whole hall could hear Mrs Tattersall’s response.
“Oh, damn it.”