A Leg Up

A Leg Up

by Robert Toogood


The Reverend Norman Bell, Vicar of St. Nicholas, Shepton, was sitting after lunch in his favourite chair in the vicarage sitting room, a cup of tea on the little table near his elbow, reading the latest copy of the Diocesan News and taking a few moments to relax before beginning his afternoon round of visiting. Turning the page his eye suddenly fell on an announcement that the (in his opinion, decrepit) Canon Atkinson had announced his retirement in the following August, two months away. This meant that his post of canon librarian to the cathedral would become vacant.


Now at the thought of this the vicar came as close to coveting this post as any clergyman of decent integrity could do. The previous Saturday he, his wife, two sons and daughter had modestly celebrated his twentieth year in holy orders. He had enjoyed his parochial ministry, but was attracted by this opportunity for a change of role. After twenty Christmases, twenty Easter services and umpteen more harvest festivals and Remembrance Days, besides all the Sundays in between, he felt the attraction for a change of role. Doing much the same job, although in two different parishes, meant that of late he had begun to feel jaded. He was a diligent parish priest and reasonably popular among the ecclesiastical hierarchy, so why not apply for this cathedral post? Of all the positions in the cathedral this was the one that most interested him, for he was a man of academic interests and had managed to write a couple of short books during odd moments of time taken from his usual duties.


As he would need people to help him get a leg up the ecclesiastical ladder it would be necessary to seek the aid of the dean and the other canons. He shared his thoughts with his wife Rosemary, who gave him her enthusiastic support. Although she was happy at Shepton, the thought of living in the cathedral close and shopping in the city stores was an attraction.


Later, while his wife was busy cooking dinner in the kitchen and he was saying Evensong in his study, having completed the daily office, he added his own intercessions for the parish sick. Having completed these, he added another prayer, namely: “Heavenly Father, you know that I have enjoyed my time here at Shepton, but I would like a change of direction. You know that the canon librarian’s position is vacant soon and I would dearly like to fill it, so please help to give me a leg up and I promise I will seek to bring credit to the cathedral, the wider Church and the glory of Christ my Saviour. Amen.”


The next day he drove into the city and called upon the dean, whom he knew reasonably well. He explained that he had read the article in the Diocesan News concerning Canon Atkinson’s retirement and asked if he thought, when the post of canon librarian became vacant, that he might stand a chance of being considered for it. Dean Broome listened carefully to the vicar, thought for a moment, then said that when the position was advertised nationally in ‘The Church Times’ he saw no reason why he should not apply to be considered for it. Indeed, he thought it safer to appoint a known clergyman, than an unknown one from elsewhere.


“One never can tell what firebrand from another diocese might apply, who might disrupt the harmony of the cathedral chapter,” the dean mused. “An appointment from within, I have always considered to be the safer bet. Indeed, I would actively encourage you to apply.”


Happy to have gained the dean’s goodwill, he approached the other canons, with the exception of Canon Theologian Gordon Aitcherson, as they had quarrelled over the advisability of using the Athanasian Creed. The other canons, to the vicar’s delight, seemed favourable to his candidacy. Canon Atkinson went so far as to say that he would consider the vicar to be a worthy successor to the post, whereupon the vicar was forced to concede to himself the old man was not as decrepit as he formerly thought.


The weeks passed, Canon Atkinson duly retired and the post of canon librarian was advertised. There were, as was to be expected, a large number of applicants. He wrote to the bishop informing him that he was applying for the post, telling himself it was just a matter of courtesy, but hoping more from it. Within the week he received a gracious, if non-committal reply. The bishop wished him well, although of course he conceded that he had no influence over cathedral matters.


At last the day of testing arrived. The candidates were now reduced to six, the vicar still being in with a chance. He felt that the interview went well, although how the other candidates performed was a matter for concern. Each day that passed added to his unease and irritability, but at length a letter arrived with the cathedral seal embossed on the envelope. He picked it up, examining the envelope minutely, although it told him nothing of the contents. At length he opened it and rejoiced to see that it offered him the position. He accepted it at once and was invited to inspect the canon’s house in the close. It was in the centre of a Georgian terrace, the houses tall and thin, being basically two rooms per storey, so that by the time he reached the top one he was short of breath. The rooms looked bigger without Canon Atkinson’s large furniture. Losing his footing on the way down the steep stairs he landed breaking his leg in the fall and was taken to hospital, where he was put in a ward with a bar and pulley to lift his leg up.


“Well,” his wife told him, “next time you want a leg up, pray for ‘preferment’ instead, or you might find yourself with your leg lifted up again. The giraffe and warthog should remind you God has a sense of humour, so don’t give him a chance to exercise it.”