We all negotiate at our own level. Some do it in the halls of power; for me the venue is the hall of the Church Vestry. The Vestry is a brick building built in the 1830s as a school and winter worship space. It’s a warm, homey place where our congregation and the wider community still gather for any number of activities. This month, the second floor was in heavy, messy use as the staging area for our Journey to Bethlehem, a town-wide, outdoor Christmas pageant.
Negotiations occur when something of value is at stake and the coveted object in this case was temporary custody of a shepherd’s crook. In our pageant, the plum role—if you’re a kid who likes animals– is to be a shepherd. My neighbor Kin walks her sheep down the hill and if you’re a shepherd, you get to spend the afternoon with Luna, Odie, WoolieWoolie, Cheerio, and Rosie. The other perk of being a shepherd is that you get access to the firepit in the shepherd’s encampment on the Meetinghouse lawn, a welcome bit of comfort on a cold December afternoon in New Hampshire.
What you may not get is one of “the good crooks.” There are three, maybe four of these special crooks and we always have more shepherds than that. I don’t know when they were made, but somewhere in the foggy recesses of Hancock pageant history, someone gave some steel tubing an exaggerated bend and made not exactly authentic, but really fine crooks for our young shepherds.
You can see from this photo (Charlie warming up with a bowl soup in the Vestry, but not letting his crook out of sight) that it would have been better if we had remembered to get new hockey tape and re-wrap the crooks, but that was a detail that got away from us this year. The tape grew more and more ragged as our after-school rehearsals went on, with new claim tags being affixed and removed and re-affixed as the shepherds vied for possession. My job was to mediate some of those negotiations. First choice of the faux animal skins from the costume box appeased one and another was persuaded with the logic that you couldn’t hold a crook AND be in charge of the animal crackers that the kids get to feed the sheep.
A shepherd’s crook has two ends. A curved end to pull the sheep back from danger and a straight end to prod them along in the right direction. As the year winds down and we begin to think about what 2017 holds in store, I’m going to keep that crook in mind. Chances are I’ll need a little protection, a little pulling back from some of my stupider ideas; but also a push, a little prodding to get on with one or two of the better ones. Stop and go. Good living requires both. Fortunately we don’t have to figure it out alone. There’s always that big shepherd and a full cast of assistant ones ready to help.