One of the hats I wear is that of treasurer to Highclere church. My husband helps me by counting the incoming money which always takes much longer than you think it will. There are piles of coins all over his desk, nothing quite adds up but we seem to bank more on God’s behalf than should be there which, I suppose, is at least the right way round. Now the time of year approaches when I have to produce the year end accounts (December 31st) and the prospect hangs over me. I keep meaning to sit down but so far have managed to successfully prevaricate.
Last year I had a double entry bookkeeping crisis so I rang my brother-in- law (who is now a board member at Deloittes, London) for help. We had studied to become chartered accountants together. He excelled and I “got through” the exams. I explained to him that I couldn’t work out the balancing account. He asked me for the materiality level and went quiet when I said I did not have one and I was out by £50. Caught between silence and laughter, we were back together in our first year of training and incomplete records. My number five sister, who also trained as a chartered accountant, came down for lunch and suggested a suspense account. I already had one.
Before the Christian church our ancestors clearly contemplated what it is to live and die: the remains of their lives are very visible in the landscape here at Highclere. Standing on the bare,windblown slopes of Beacon Hill looking south, it is easy to see to raised outlines of a number of burial tumuli perhaps 5,000 years old. The bodies of our those who lived here were carefully arranged in them perhaps with jewellery or perhaps some little keepsake to help them as they faced the next world and were sorely missed in this.
Apart from distributing debits and credits in the books, my small job is an interesting window into the business of the Church. The name “Downton Abbey” hints at the fact that Highclere was in truth once owned by the Church and run as a business and part of their estate for nearly 800 years at a time when the Church hierarchy was perhaps more concerned with the accumulation of wealth and power than with purely spiritual matters. For all that, it also had a much greater presence in everyday life, in the fabric of the understanding and analysis of the challenges in life. This does matter and it can aid us, giving us some harmony. Today we may assume churches are primarily here for births, weddings and death, to comfort us and guide us and give aid where it can. We can see the fabric of the buildings, know the churches which we want to support and understand that their ministers and staff need salaries to be able to go out and help others. With diminishing funds parish contributions are vital so I had better get on with it….
A couple of hours later, Geordie has finished counting his coins and I have reconciled 3 bank accounts. Two are temporarily perfect and one is out by £7. Time for a glass to celebrate.