Supermarket Singing

30 Mar

Supermarket car parks are generally unpleasant places: cars loaded with BOGOFs that will often go uneaten because they pass their sell-by date, try to run down pensioners with their one carrier bag, forced to walk to the bottom end of the car park because selfish, fit middle-aged men park their Beamers in the disabled spaces.  But not on Palm Sundays in this corner of Stockport, for that is the day that local church congregations come together for thirty minutes and sing joyful hymns to bemused shoppers.

The tradition was started a couple of years ago by our previous vicar, but we had a donkey then: the incredibly good-natured and beautiful twenty-five year old Jenny Donkey, hired to lead us where we might not otherwise have followed.  I have done some bizarre things in my life, but I think following a donkey to Morrisons was the most peculiar, and yet amazingly good fun. 

 This is a Jenny Donkey but not our Jenny Donkey. 

It is a ten-minute walk behind a placid donkey from our starting point at St John’s Church, to get to Morrisons’ car park and meet up with the Salvation Army Band.  Their presence surprised me, the first year, because I thought they only came out at Christmas.  That first Palm Sunday, hymn sheets were passed out and everyone seemed to have a good time singing along.  We quickly got through the printed hymns and had to dredge from memory the words to the familiar tunes that followed: as each person knew some songs better than others, the best that can be said was that a joyful noise was made unto the Lord.

The bravest among us (not me, obviously) handed out palm crosses to the shoppers.  It helps to have a child along because even the most harassed of people will mind their language in front of a five-year old.  To be fair, many shoppers were happy to listen to the singing whilst their children stroked Jenny Donkey and fed her Polo Mints, and I only heard one complaint about donkey spit on the clothes – fortunately, from my own child.

The festive atmosphere had an international feel because we not only had people from many different denominations but also from different countries, including America and Zambia.  Each church made its own contribution to the event: as a sample, the Salvation Army provided the wonderful music which, with our usual British reserve, we were all too embarrassed to applaud, much as we wanted to, in case total strangers saw us being slightly exuberant in public; St Matthew’s brought real palm leaves; and my church provided the donkey mints.

We are in our third year now and have sadly lost the vicar (pastures new) and the donkey (pastor unfortunately took the owner’s contact details with her), but the singing is better.  The shoppers’ stupefied looks remain, however: some traditions never die.

I welcome your comments but be warned: I'm menopausal and as likely to snarl as smile. Wine or Maltesers are an acceptable bribe; or a compliment about my youthful looks and cheery disposition will do in a pinch.

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