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Ministers Christmas Message
The Lamentable Tale of Earwinimous Bish, Father Christmas’ Naughty List Manager
Listen, I’ve never been one to complain. I don’t expect my job to be easy. No elf ever does – we work hard.  Have you ever seen the elves working the night shift at Santa’s workshop? No, of course you haven’t. It’s top secret. But imagine: wading into a person-size heap of coils and springs, and building a WowWee PowerRobot at 2 am? Then doing it again, and again, each time from scratch? Night after night, in the cold?
OK, these days we do have central heating at the ’Shop, don’t get too worried about us. But still. It’s hard work, is all I’m saying. Heck, I know I couldn’t do it. I may have small fingers, like any elf, but they’re useless at crafting toys. We all have different gifts. Mine is moral accounting. Someone has to do the math. As a matter of fact, I actually enjoy it. I’ve been a naughty list accountant all my working life. And I must not do such a bad job, because over the years, Santa has promoted me to Chief Naughty List Manager. I’ve been the CNLM for three Christmasses now.
I like my job well enough. It’s a calling, really. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t frustrating (and what kind of precedent would it set, the Chief Naughty List Manager lying?). The math is OK – as I say, I like it, and though moral math is a bit complicated, it’s all solvable with a bit of effort.
The problem – and I hope the big guy will forgive me for saying this – the problem is Santa. He’s always putting a spanner in the works.

Take the case of Billy Kingman. Kid was a no-brainer. Put a stick in his sister’s bicycle spokes just to see her tumble. Add to that, he hadn’t done his homework in months. So I present the report to Santa – it’s all as clear as day – and Santa rubs his beard in that way he has, twinkle in his eye, and says “well…” (you know he’s about to cause havoc when he has beard-rubbing “well…”), “well…he did make that flower picture for his Mama last month. And we do have that little green train with the real smoke effects, I seem to recall, don’t we?” 

” Look, Mr. Redsuit, I KNOW he drew the picture with the purple ellipses around the stick. Who do you think did the math? Me! (Well, OK, technically one of my assistants did the actual initial accounting, but I re-tallied it – I always do). And if we give the extra trains to just anyone, where would we be?
This last Christmas I actually blew up at him. I was presenting the report of Callie Chen – I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say woe betide any 12-year-old who befriends Callie Chen – I was presenting this 14-page report (and, to answer your question before you ask it, yes, elves do prepare reports in comic sans) when Santa tilts his head to one side, looks into the distance, and says, “well…”
“No!” I say to Santa. “No. We have to follow the rules. You have to follow the rules. YOU MADE THESE RULES, SANTA!”
“Did I? I don’t remember,” Santa murmurs – whether with genuine befuddlement, or if he’s just having me on, I’ve no idea.
I storm out, shouting “I quit!” as my parting gift behind me. Four hours later, I’m at the Sno-Cone bar, icing my troubles, when Santa sidles up onto the stool next to me. He has a lump of coal in his hand. It takes me a second to even recognise what it is. I mean, I know the procedure well enough – I even helped edit the manual – but seeing it there, in its physical form, is different. It gave me a funny feeling, somehow, like hitting the Print key somewhere deep in the soul, and the sound jolting you awake. Santa puts the coal in my hand. It’s a tiny asteroid, dull and flaky.
“You win. It’s yours if you want it,” he says.
Ordinarily, I don’t make deliveries. I could have filed a grievance for breach of contract right then and there, if I wanted to. But I gotta admit, I was curious. It’d been year since I had seen a human child receive a gift. Let alone a piece of coal.
So that’s how, a few days later, I’m riding on the sleigh over the twinkling expanse of The Main Production, as we elves call it, the cities and towns people ceaselessly construct. When it’s my turn we find the chimney, in the suburb of the city, where Callie Chen gets tucked in after her exhausting days of name-calling, hair-pulling and worse. The landing and entry are a pretty standard operation – reindeer dust, house consciousness test kit, cloaking magic, etcetera. The chimney is simple enough, even for me. I have the coal in my hand, a small sack with everyone else’s goodies in the other, and – a little excitedly, I must admit – I creep towards the stockings area.
It’s then I see Callie’s grandma, Mrs. Chen. She’s asleep on the couch. She must have recently nodded off, because prized in her unconscious hands is a small square package with a bow around it. The ribbon is beautifully tied, just immaculate. On the wrapping paper she has written her granddaughter’s name. She’s holding that gift for dear life.
I sigh. I clamber back up the chimney. Santa’s sitting up there, with his vape (he’s trying to quit). “Everything OK?” he asks.
“Boss, I need the making-stuff.”
He doesn’t even blink, just pulls out a bag of materials and hands it to me. As I said, I’m not crafty. We must have sat there on the roof for what in the human world would have felt like hours, me cursing as I try to get the wire thingy into the doohicky just right to connect with the other bit, Santa just enjoying his cig and nibbling on mince pie crumbs he found in his beard. Even after all that, it’s not much: I have managed to create a chunky, awkward-looking robot, that looks vaguely like Santa if you squint the right way. If you squeeze it the eyes light up and it says “ho, ho, ho.” But I am a bit proud of it. Honestly the big guy’s laugh really does sound just like that. The robot’s nose, by the way, is a lump of coal.
With barely a glance at my superior, I throw some wrapping paper on the whole thing and scoot down the chimney. Mrs. Chen is fast asleep now; the present has slipped out of her hands onto the floor. I place it next to her on the sofa, and head for the tree.
I’ve already affixed a blank tag on mine, and the plan was to write “to Callie, from Santa” on it. But at the last sneaky moment, something possesses me and I write, “from Earwinimous Bish, kid, with love.” I wonder what she made of that. I never did find out.
In the end, I did confess to Santa, although it was well into March before I owned up to it.  . I made an appointment with him – I wanted to do it right, and not just tap him on the knee when he walked by in the hallway.
“Santa,” I said, “Remember that present, last Christmas? The Chen girl?” Of course he did.
“Well,” I continued. “I did something wrong. I meant to put your name on it, course I did, but then for some reason I put my own name on it.” He just looked at me. “That should have been your name on there. I’m sorry.”
I was ready to resign, if necessary. But Santa reached for my hand and shook it. “Earwinimous Bish,” he says, “Christmas isn’t mine. I just work here. That present WAS from you. Congratulations. I’m proud of you.”
Well, I don’t know about that. But I have been reading the reports, and Callie Chen has been a tad better this year – only a TAD – and just in case, in my spare time I am designing a bit of a Laser Reindeer GameFriendDeluxe with optional candy cane attachment. I just work here, too. But if anyone asks, this one’s from Earwinomous Bish.
Chapel Calendars
Once again we have the chance to buy the beautiful Park Lane Chapel calendar.  The cost remains the same at £5 and they either make a lovely present or a very useful addition for ourselves.  If you wish to order one then please ask anyone at Chapel or you can put your name down on either a Thursday or Sunday morning.
Songs of Praise for Ashton Festival
This was held at the invitation of Ashton Festival Committee on the 24th September.  It was very well attended and everyone sang with great gusto. There were visitors from other churches in Ashton which was lovely.  When we went into the Memorial Room for refreshments everyone  mixed together and it was very sociable interlude.
A very successful occasion.