by Carrie Willard
When a bishop travels to different churches and faith communities, his or her staff will usually send a special document to that church prior to the visit. It’s basically a list of protocol – do’s and don’ts to make sure the visit goes smoothly. You might think of it as the ecclesiastical equivalent of those celebrity demands – no green M&Ms, only Icelandic bottled water (chilled, but not too chilled), a half-dozen virgin pygmy goats. In the church world, it’s called the bishop’s “customary,” which I always thought was kind of funny, because it’s an adjective disguised as a noun. They do serve a real purpose, which is to make sure services and receptions go smoothly for everyone.
For bishops, the requests can range from the simple (please use the bishop’s first name; please don’t serve shellfish as he has an allergy) to the complex (please sure that a Type O+ blood donor is standing by at all times). OK, I made that last one up. These lists can range from the practical (please indicate where the bishop should park her car) to the … ethereal (don’t ever, ever sing Schubert’s Sanctus in the proximity of the Bishop, unless you can really belt it out). I only kind of made that last one up.
Thinking about this protocol document … why shouldn’t everyone have a “customary”? I’m sure the Queen of England has one, and it’s good enough for HRH, it’s good enough for commoners like us! We have been so (joyfully) overwhelmed with the kindness and hospitality already offered to us in Houston. We are so looking forward to spending time with the people at Palmer and getting to know you. So, without further ado…
The Willards’ Customary
Thank you for inviting us to your home (or ranch, prayer breakfast, parole hearing, cotillion, bar/bat mitzvah, rodeo, mock trial competition, etc.)! We are looking forward to our time together. This list is not comprehensive, and is subject to the lunar phase, the church/school calendar, the state of Carrie’s hair, and/or the fancies of the Willards.
- We will do our very best to learn your names – it is important to us. Please feel free to re-introduce yourselves to us, even if we’ve already met – that is always a welcome kindness.
- Speaking of names, please feel free to use our first names – Neil, Carrie, Rowan and Ben – if you are comfortable doing so.
- Please let us know the date and time of the gathering, and what we may bring. We would love to contribute. We cannot accept invitations on Saturday evenings – thank you for understanding.
- If there is a dress code, please include that information as well.
- We like child-friendly gatherings and adults-only gatherings. Please let us know if we should plan to bring our kids (Rowan, age 6 and Ben, age 3), or if we should arrange for a sitter. If our children are invited, we will bring their own food and something for them to do. Trust us – it’s easier for everyone this way. They are experiencing a huge change in their lives, and bringing something familiar and easy for them to eat is one way that we can make sure that they continue to be comfortable with this transition. Thank you for understanding. And please let us know if anyone at your home has allergies, so that we can avoid bringing allergy triggers to your home.
- You should be aware that Carrie does not drink alcoholic beverages. She is neither in recovery, nor is she pregnant, but one might say that she will always be in recovery from being pregnant. Neither is she a teetotaler, which is too bad, because it’s a really fun word to say. She just doesn’t care for the taste of alcohol, and she has teeny tiny control issues. She makes an excellent OK designated driver. She will not be offended if you offer her a drink, especially if you are not offended when she declines. And please don’t feel like you have to go out and get something special for her to drink – she’s perfectly happy with tap water.
- We are dog and cat people! Please don’t feel like you have to sequester your friendly pets on our behalf. (You can keep the hairless rats in their cages, though.) Carrie may spend more time talking with your pet than with the human people in the house. It’s not you – it’s just that she really, really likes dogs and cats.
- We do not have any food allergies, but Neil (strongly) prefers not to eat anything with tentacles, and Carrie cannot eat curry. So, curried calamari is out. Sorry.
- There is no need to apologize when asking Neil to say the table blessing (he’s a pro!), but he won’t be offended if you choose to say it yourself or ask someone else. Likewise, feel free to put us to work! Carrie’s happy to stir the risotto, and Neil is delighted to help set the table. Let’s just say that we would be very comfortable downstairs at Downton Abbey, and we would be pleased to help.
- We don’t have any cool party tricks, but Neil can tell you about his brushes with celebrity, and Carrie can play the “six degrees of separation” game to just about anyone in the Episcopal Church.
- If you are easily offended by the occasional teeny tiny swear word, don’t sit by Carrie. If you’re afraid you might let a teeny tiny swear word slip out next to a guy who wears a clerical collar, don’t be.
So, now you know what would be on our “customary.” What would be on yours? No red meat? Gluten free? Dim lighting? Only green M&Ms?
Carrie Willard is a piano teacher, recovering lawyer, and food and cooking enthusiast living in Houston, Texas, with her husband and two young sons. She is the wife, daughter, sister and sister-in-law of Episcopal priests. This article is abridged from a post published in June 2015 on her blog, The Contessa-Curessa Project, at curessa.wordpress.com.