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A Man of a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

The Test Of A True Christian

Those of us within the Church of England lament the decline in church attendance. As vicar of St Basil’s, I have sadly noted the increase in vacant pews on Sundays, despite the periodic appearance of new faces.

Contrary to common belief, however, this decline is not due to lack of popular interest in the Church. In common with most other churches, St Basil’s has worked tirelessly on outreach projects aimed at increasing our numbers, and a slow but steady stream of the local community have been encouraged to join our congregation.

There is more to being a Christian, however, than attending services, joining prayer groups, and enjoying church social events. Indeed, this interpretation of the spiritual path creates an ever present risk of generating quantity in our membership to the detriment of quality.

For this reason the Covert Operations Branch of the General Synod decreed that clandestine tests should be employed by all churches to confirm an attitude and Christian commitment in newer Church attendees, appropriate to the Kingdom of Heaven.

For the first test, church heating is turned off before a winter service or, in summer, windows are closed and heating adjusted to maximum. The vicar then delivers an inordinately boring sermon in a tedious, unremitting monotone which ends with the words: ‘Let us move to our final hymn as I note that I have been speaking for nearly two hours’.

Finally, the collection is amassed on an open plate such that the offering of the initiate is visible to at least a dozen nearby members of the congregation. Each of these observers will have already been witnessed contributing at least fifty pounds – these excessive donations are later quietly refunded.

The second test begins with the new attendee being asked to drive a disabled member of the congregation to a Sunday service. If this is agreed, then a weekly expectation of such assistance follows.

At St Basil’s we lack disabled members who require transportation. We are fortunate, however, in having links with the amateur dramatic society in a nearby village whose Christian members have perfected portrayal of incontinent and car-sick wheelchair users.

This subterfuge was nearly exposed when one new member recognised his allocated passenger on the television as she was presented with a gold medal in the National Trampoline Championships. Fortunately, he eventually accepted the explanation that she had, since the previous Sunday, visited Lourdes.

The final test engages the new member in raising money for the ‘Building Fund’. Employing this approach for decades has provided most churches with sufficient assets to rebuild their premises many times over. Indeed, church building fund accounts have become a cornerstone of Swiss banking. This is maintained as a closely guarded secret, however, to avoid destroying the reason to place testing and time consuming demands for fundraising activity upon new members - each demand carefully calculated to coincide with critical personal commitments.

The cunning outcome of this selection procedure is that failed aspirants feel too embarrassed to admit to their lack of selfless commitment. They simply make some alternative excuse and leave.

Sadly, the numbers who pass all three tests are low and not keeping pace with the demise of our older members. Nevertheless, the Church is determined that standards should never be compromised.