by Photo by Charlie Read on Unsplash

St Imulus

It has been a literary few months at St Imulu’s.

It all began in February when Tu Hawke approached vestry suggesting a joint book fair between us and Orakei Marae. Vestry got on board, the idea being that we’d provide most of the books, Orakei would provide the venue, and the funds raised would be split three ways: a third for us, a third for them, and a third for computers for kids at the local primary. Vicar Bob put a notice in the bulletin each Sunday for several weeks, asking for books. The response was overwhelming. In fact, it wasn’t long before Bob was advertising for a book fair convenor. The church foyer was floor to ceiling with magazines, old videos, encyclopedias, Shakespeare’s complete works, and manuals on Fortran.

Personally, I think Bob’s plea for “someone” to be convenor was disingenuous. He knew that Daphne would put her hand up, now that our son Henry’s at playcentre three mornings a week and Daph still hasn’t gone back to work. I quickly resigned myself to nights alone in the three weeks leading up to the fair. And I wasn’t wrong. It had got to the point on Sunday mornings where you had to wend your way through a kind of mini-Manhattan just to make it from the foyer to the church sanctuary. Even the back two pews were jammed full of House and Garden magazines, cricket and rugby biographies, and old statistics textbooks which had, in their pomp, been on university course booklists.

Still, I trusted Daph to get the job done. What Bob wanted was someone to sort all the offerings into categories ahead of the big day – nothing Daph couldn’t handle. What neither Bob, nor Daph, nor indeed anyone, had anticipated were the myriad moral decisions a book fair convenor would be faced with. Some of them were fairly easy to make. When Daphne came across a black plastic bag full of Playboys, for example, she had no hesitation about sending them straight to the skip Bob had hired to deal with surplus or unsuitable stock. Other decisions, however, were not so simple. If you were throwing out Playboys – a decision that all those who were consulted, backed – what about Cosmopolitan and Cleo? And if them, what did you do with Woman’s Day and New Idea? “I’m a bit at sea, Warren,” Daph said late one Friday after another evening sorting stock. “There’s nothing exactly wrong with a lot of these magazines, but there’s not much right with them either.” “Hmmm,” I grunted. I was rather hoping not to be interrupted during my viewing of The Real Housewives of Palmerston North. But Daph continued. “I think most people would accept that a church book fair is not going to stock pornography, but where exactly do you draw the line?” It was a fair question. Fifty Shades of Grey was probably out, but Mills & Boon perhaps stayed in?

There were also cultural sensitivities to consider. When the local Paper Plus proprietor dropped off several signed copies of a Don Brash memoir, Many of my Best Friends are Maoris, all in mint condition, Daphne worried that the people over at Orakei might not be so keen. She seemed to have a fair point. And then there were the economic considerations. Any number of copies of old William Barclay commentaries poured in, many with torn front covers or sellotaped spines. There were Bible concordances by the dozen, and E. M. Blaiklock’s Teach Yourself Hebrew in 40 Days. As Daphne suggested one night, these seemed to be much worthier offerings, but slightly more niche than, say, National Geographic. Could we afford to devote table space to them? And as Daphne also mused, if you were going to screen out books and magazines which appealed to base sexual desires, why not those which appealed to base material desires? How to Make your First Million, for example. And was it even Daph’s job to vet the stock on customers’ behalf?

When she and Tu got together a week before sale day, she put her concerns to him. Tu laughed. “Daphne, if Brash’s book puts computers into the hands of decile one kids, ka nui te mihi ki a ia.” Daph’s reo isn’t too flash, so she missed the last bit, but she got the gist. When she rang Bob later, he wasn’t too worried either. “Anyone who shells out five bucks on How to Make your First Million is already five bucks behind, Daph. The greed is cancelled by the gift.” Who knows whether Bob truly believed this, but it gave Daph peace of mind.

So anyway, the big day arrived. The Woman’s Days netted fifty cents apiece and went before 10am. The Cosmos went for a dollar and were gone by 9.30. When the local Act Party candidate found Brash’s memoirs still unsold at midday, she quickly opened her purse and pulled out a couple of Ernie Rutherfords. No one took the Fortran manual, and the Bible concordances maintained a gloomy leathery presence in one corner of the wharekai. But it didn’t much matter: we made just over 6K. In the end, both Orakei and St Imulu’s decided to donate our share of the proceeds to the school. The principal didn’t seem to mind that their new computers would be paid for off the back of an iwi?/Kiwi manifesto.

The other positive outcome is that St Imulu’s now has a church library. Any time you want to find out what William Barclay thinks about any of Paul’s epistles, or indeed the Gospels, or for that matter the Acts of the Apostles, go no further than the two shelves Vicar Bob has had fitted to the back wall of the church foyer. He also made sure to hold back a full set of Harry Potters. “Essential Christian reading,” Bob says, “alongside Narnia and Tolkien and anything by that surfer from West Australia, you know, the guy with the ponytail?” Tim Winton, it turns out. Daph says she’s read a few of his novels and they’re full of the kind of language you might expect from an Australian. Bob insists, however, that they belong in any church library this side of the eschaton. The eschaton? I furrowed my brow. But before I could even ask what an eschaton was, Bob anticipated the question and began ferreting around in a box of leftover books. “Here,” he said, handing me a glossy hardback. “It’s Brash’s more recent offering. New Zealand the Way I Want It.”