Changing Rooms

THE FORMULA IS SIMPLE. Take an ordinary English house – by-pass suburban with bay windows would be ideal – and persuade its hapless owners to submit themselves, their home and garden, to the depredations of two rather camp young men and a team of doubtful workmen. Set a time limit for the decorative transformation; and film the whole process for television.

So successful has this improbable scenario been that it has spawned numbers of copycat programmes, including one starring Alan Tichmarsh – surely himself the least probable sex symbol (and novelist) ever to emerge from the media.

In a world where ‘Do-It-All’ has more regular Sunday attenders than the Church of England we should not be surprised that DIY-against-the-clock has a macabre fascination.

“It’s now three in the morning, the team is tired and has been working non-stop for thirty-six hours on neo-Elizabethan fret work. Can Jules finish stencilling golden stars on the midnight blue living-room ceiling in time for Samantha and Kevin’s return off the morning flight from Alicante?”

Nails across the nation are bitten to the quick.

Could it be that the success of ‘Changing Rooms’ was the inspiration of the Liturgical Commission of the Church of England in its recent long-running series ‘Common Worship’?

What bold stylistic combinations, we asked ourselves, would be unveiled when the final versions emerged from the press? Of course, there were the inevitable cliff-hangers – could all the Eucharistic prayers clear the synodical hurdles this time? And would the essential translation of ‘ek’ be agreed in time to send the whole package to the printers? We synodical couch potatoes held our breath!

And there was certainly no shortage of camp presenters or dubious workmen.

‘Asking the House of Laity of the General Synod to do liturgy is like teaching a rugby scrum to crochet’, commented one of the principals.

‘How would you describe an evangelical liturgist?’ asked another. ‘Rather like a vegetarian gourmet,’ came the reply. And whilst solemn Hebraisits rumbled in the far distance, an English specialist commented that the language of the Psalter had all the stylistic elegance of stock-broker Tudor.

Imagine, then, the nimble Bishop of Salisbury, utilising his more than passing resemblance to Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, giving his final description of the transformation:

“Well, we thought we would give you eight eucharistic prayers (….so spacious!); and here and there among them, just a touch of the Oriental (….which is all the rage in the decor mags, haven’t you noticed?). For the Initiation Rites we thought we would go for something that was both traditional and practical. So you will see that the dear old Apostles’ Creed is back from the attic – and, given a good dusting down, it could prove serviceable for years.

“Now all along, of course, Kevin and Sam have been unable to settle on one style that they are both comfortable with.

“Kevin, you will remember, was for a ‘you’ form (…all angular shapes, ash and sycamore finishes, and up lighting). Samantha preferred ‘thou’ (…candlelight, natural oak, dark leather, quarry tiles; that sort of thing). The good news is that, by opening up two rooms into one (…and with the skilled assistance of Dave, we can do that sort of thing!) we have been able to give you Order One: a liturgy which will keep both of you happy. When Kevin tires of ‘you’, then Samantha can just turn down the halogen spots, light up the evocative candles, and cuddle up in a comfortable ‘thou’. It allows for user-friendly mood-change at will. And then there are those convenient responsorial Eucharistic Prayers for the kiddies!

“Some people, it is true, will be critical of our rather stark all-black facade; but I am sure that Kevin and Sam will soon get used to it. With bold splashes of scarlet (…Stendhal eat your heart out!) we think it is chic-ly post-modern (…with witty allusions to the quality morocco bindings of yore).

“Kevin and Samantha’s theologically-minded guests (…and every home, we believe, should try to cater for minority interests, if you know what I mean) will have noticed already that from most of the rites there is direct access to the lean-to conservatory and Italian-style patio at the back (…tastefully arranged with choice pieces collected on foreign holidays). By bold use of this freedom of access, Kev and Sam could, on occasion, give the whole melange a thoroughly continental feel!

“Those of you who have not as yet grasped that disposability is at the heart of the post-modern (and have half an eye on the bank balance) will ask how long all this is going to last (…boring! boring!). The answer is …as long as you want it to!

“The rather dowdy and dated improvements made by the last owners (…sexist language in a Hippolytan straight-jacket!) survived twenty years (…though they were looking pretty threadbare after ten).

“Nobody wants a liturgy that lasts that long these days! We see ourselves as simply starting you off on your liturgical adventure – giving you the confidence to innovate! With the right computer soft-ware, and our user-friendly DIY brochure, you will be able to knock up a liturgy in no time, for almost any event.

“And always remember, those events do not have to be the old-style baptisms, weddings and funerals. We are confident that a whole new raft of services will soon be needed to express the exciting diversity of modern lifestyles!

“Rooms are not the only things which are changing!”

Geoffrey Kirk is Vicar of St Stephen’s, Lewisham in the diocese of Southwark