“Let’s have a show of hands,” announced Pastor Harrison. “Who would like to stand as chair of this year’s gala committee?”
The pastor looked round expectantly. There had been a good turn-out for this year’s AGM and the fund-raising gala was one of the highlights of the church calendar. Pastor Harrison stared at Mr Williams, certainly his preferred candidate, but he was looking down, refusing to meet the pastor’s gaze. Indeed most of the audience was doing the same, examining the patterned carpet or the familiar wall hangings. Only one hand was raised, that of a rotund, elderly lady dressed in a shocking pink outfit. Her arm was outstretched, a proud sapling surrounded by a field of drooping corn. All the church knew Mrs Rumplebottom: she loved to volunteer for anything and everything.
Pastor Harrison tried out his best plastic smile. He couldn’t bring himself to pronounce her surname: “Thank you, Sister Marigold. I’m sure we appreciate your willingness. I’ll leave the invitation open for just a moment longer…”
Mrs Rumplebottom was lonely. Her grown up children lived far away and she filled her days with church meetings. Mothers-and-toddlers, Bible studies, the outreach team, church maintenance: you name it, she would be there. She even turned up one month for the men’s prayer breakfast. The pastor had had to explain gently but firmly that there were some things men needed to discuss without the presence of the fairer sex. Definitely an asset to the church; the only problem was that you never quite knew what she would do next.
There was the time she volunteered for the flower rota… Pastor Harrison had arrived at church one Sunday to find the sanctuary covered in more than a hundred potted cacti. Marigold’s explanation was that the Lord had commanded her to buy them. Something about wanting to remind the church that this world is not our home, that we are like the children of Israel, merely passing through on our way to the Promised Land. Not a bad sermon, but the treasurer threw a fit when presented with the receipts from the garden centre.
Then there was the time she went along on the Sunday School day-out... Forty-five excited children were packed in a bus with only three teachers to supervise them. Marigold heard and immediately offered to help. Everything had gone smoothly until right at the end. Just as the children were filing into the bus for the trip home, she announced that they should buy something for the driver as a thank-you present. Before any of the teachers could stop her, she hurried off in search of a Christian bookshop. It was a good hour and a quarter before she finally appeared, clutching a wooden plaque engraved with a prayer to Saint Christopher. By the time the bus returned to the church, the parents were near to rioting and it took the Sunday School superintendent several weeks to get everyone’s blood pressure back to normal.
Time was up. Looking over the congregation, it was obvious that no-one else was interested in taking on the formidable Mrs Rumplebottom. “Thank you, Sister Marigold, for your willingness to serve. I can assure you of the full support of all the church leadership.”
Mrs Rumplebottom let rip an unrestrained “Yippee” followed by an apologetic, “Oh, er, I meant Hallelujah.” This was accompanied by an outburst of delighted laughter from the congregation.
The rest of the evening passed off without incident, although the pastor couldn’t stop brooding on what could possibly go wrong with the gala. “What I wouldn’t give for a paid staff member,” he grouched. “Volunteers are all very well, but they’re just not reliable.”
He was still in foul mood when it came time to shake people’s hands on their way out. Mrs Rumplebottom bounced up to him in a flurry of lace and frills. “Pastor Harrison, I’m terribly sorry to inconvenience you,” she announced.
“What is it, Sister Marigold?”
“It’s just that I forget to check my diary earlier. The night of the gala. My daughter is taking me away for a few days. I won’t be able to organise it for you. I’m terribly sorry.”
The pastor groaned, reaching unthinkingly for the ulcer medication he kept in his jacket pocket.
“That’s the spirit,” she continued, not even waiting for a response. “I’m sure you’ll find someone else. Bye!”
Pastor Harrison closed his eyes in weary resignation. “Volunteers,” he muttered under his breath. “God save me from volunteers!”
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