« It’s a time for forgiveness » the blue rinse bible lady said soothingly.
« A time for pardon » cooed the tall, thin, breastless blonde, in even more soothing tones than her rotund blue rinse colleague.
« We are here to forgive each other, and ask the Lord for his forgiveness. » announced the priest in friendly solemnity. « Come join with us » and we all stood and prayed.
Then the bible ladies came amongst us and invited the kids to go to the altar and make the sign of the cross.
One by one, the kids filed up to bowl of Holy water, dipped their fngers in and made the sign of the cross.
As usual, the offspring had a few problems. I guess that we hadn’t rehearsed enough at home; besides doing the sign of the cross ain’t all that easy when you’re left handed.
The blue rinse bible lady shook her head and « tut tutted » loudly enough for Dad to hear. She stood behind the offspring, took her hand, and made her do the cross again.
« Always finish with the right hand on the right shoulder. »
« My daughter’s left-handed » I said through clenched teeth.
« Well can’t she learn to do it with her right hand? » snapped Mrs Bible
I suppose that the other kids in the catechism class had been revising the sign of the Cross all week. They all did it perfectly
It was the same story with the Lord’s Prayer. All the other kids reeled it off parrot fashion. Some of them could even do the actions. (Did you know that there were actions to the Lord’s Prayer?). The offspring who had not leaned it by heart, read the prayer from her home made cue card. Much to the annoyance of the breastless blonde.
« Doesn’t she know it yet? » snapped the titless tyrant.
No comment from dad.
Welcome to the freezing cold, the peeling paint, the uncomfortable chairs and the smell of unwashed bodies that is our local church hall.
All communal halls are the same. They are sad un-heated places that smell of feet and cabbage.
It is the last Tuesday in the month. This means it is bible night, when dad takes the offspring to catechism to learn about God.
It had all seemed relaxed and friendly at first. Our breastless blond friend had been all sweetness and light.
« Remember children, this is not like school. You are here to learn about Jesus and welcome him into our hearts. »
For the rest of that session the Bible ladies carried on about « loving thy neighbour » and other nice Christian stuff. It was all very hippy. Even I thought of getting back with God.
As we left each parent was given a small plastic case containing a CD of Christian pop songs and nine activity books. We were told to have a quick glance at the books before each session. I took them at their word. For the next session we spent half an hour looking at the book before we went.
« Oh my God! » I moaned. The activity book was packed full of things to learn by heart, plus there were things to write, things to cut out and stick in an exercise book and loads of pictures to colour in.
It was mad. We just managed to cut out and colour in the crucifix before the 5.15 deadline.
When we got to the class, there was a book inspection. « Now children, show me your books » chirped the blue rinse bible lady.
Every kid had done pages of neat writing, and colouring in. Their books were covered in bright paper and they knew everything by heart. The offspring’s book was a tatty old thing with nothing in it. I was so ashamed I just kept it in my bag, pretending that we had forgotten to bring it.
The second session was all about friends and loved ones who are important to us.
« Who do you love? » asked the breastless blonde.
Hands shot up all over the room. Some kids would have punched a hole in the ceiling they were so eager to answer. Other kids hung on the edge of their seats squealing « me me! » Parents sitting at the back egged their off spring on.
The blue rinse lady picked a boy. « Antoine »
« I love Jesus » shouted the thin weedy boy with cropped hair and glasses.
« Jesus is my friend too ’ shouted another boy who looked like Heinrich Himmler.
« Very good » said the blue rinse bible lady.
Heinrich Himmler’s mum turns round and smiles at the other mums, who nod approvingly.
And so it has been for every session since September. Last Tuesday though, things got deadly serious.
We all filed in as usual. We sang the song from the CD that we have only listened to once, then the Catechism crew started on the theme of forgiveness.
We had the parable of the prodigal son, how he spent all his inheritance having a good time, and how he came home and was forgiven by his father.
« The son was a sinner, but his father loved him, forgave him his sins and welcomed him back into his heart. » said the priest. « We too are all sinners, but the Lord loves us and will pardon us our sins. »
At this point the breastless blonde started to hand round yellow sheets.
« Okay children. I want you to read the paper, and then decide what you have done. Afterwards you can go and se the priest and ask to be forgiven. » She announced.
I glanced down the paper with the offspring. Here were the options.
I haven’t been nice to my friends
I haven’t made my bed or tidied my room
I haven’t helped my parents
I haven’t shared my toys
I have been horrible to people
We went through the list.
« Well, I tidied my room last week. I shared my toys and sweets when my friends came round to play, I haven’t been horrible to you and last night I did the washing up. »
« You’ve been a really good girl » I said, giving the offspring a peck on the cheek.
I gave the paper back to a bible lady.
« My kid’s fine, there’s nothing on the list she can tick. »
The bible lady gives the offspring a long sideways stare.
« You must have done something » she says indignantly.
« No » murmurs the offspring.
All the other kids who love Jesus are lining up to confess. They must be a right evil lot.
The offspring doesn’t line up.
« Why aren’t you lining up with others? » Snaps the titless tyrant.
« I haven’t been naughty » replies the offspring.
« Oh, I’m sure you have. Go on, line up. If you don’t see the priest you’ll regret it. »
If this woman doesn’t leave my kid alone, the Tsunami will be nothing compared to the anger that I am about to release. It’s time to breathe deeply, smile, and be polite but firm.
« Aren’t they a little young for confession » I ask
« Oh no. Anyway, confession is good for them. »
She turns to the offspring.
« Are you going or not? If you see the priest he will give you a candle »
The offspring screws up her face and shakes her head.
The blue rinse lady joins the breastless blonde. They stare at the offspring. There is a sharp and united disapproving intake of breath from the ladies. Again the offspring is told that she will regret it if she doesn’t see the priest.
This is a no win situation. My principles dictate that I should leave the church hall with the offspring, but I don’t want to show her up in front of her friends, most of whom I have to take home after.
I don’t go for this confession thing. I don’t go much for the doctrine of organised religion at all. Besides, when I was a kid, I was baptised Church of Scotland, which isn’t really a church, just a giant global social club.
I have to admit defeat. This is neither the time nor the place to start an argument, and anything I do will be of no service to the offspring.
As my daughter drags off to see the priest, the bible ladies look at me with an air of patronising superiority. Maybe they want me to confess. Most of the other parents are confessing.
Well, you can be sure, what little religion I had reconciled myself with, is now lost.
As for the offspring. She spent most of the journey home in the car wondering what she had actually done wrong, and since confession she has been looking at us both for approval in her actions.
I now know why the Church isn’t for me. It is for all those who don’t have enough faith in themselves so have to place the little they have in God.
We will of course be going to the next class. We are fully paid up until the end of the year, and the offspring goes more to be with her mates than be with God.
Doubtless, at the end of April, we will learn about hell fire and damnation. The bible ladies will tell the kids that they are all going to burn in old Nick’s fiery furnace for eternity of they don’t make their beds.
I know one thing. If you do want to screw your kids up, send them to see the bible ladies.