There’s a pew free for Andy Murray, but I hope he doesn’t need it
Looking back, I wish I could have issued a superinjunction. As the parish church of Wimbledon, we have been offering our neighbouring field as a car park during tournament fortnight.
It raises a tidy sum for the local and national charities we support, as well as for our church. We used to allow some overspill into the church driveway but, a couple of years ago, someone asked to park his smart BMW sports car on the grass between two 18th-century headstones. He then took a photo of this startling juxtaposition of ancient and modern and sent it to a newspaper.
My sky fell in. Within hours, the voicemail was full. Parish priests are more worldly than the unchurched suppose, but I'd had no idea that this sort of publicity could generate hate mail from all over the world.
Since then, I've been rather more sympathetic to politicians and celebrities, who must get this sort of treatment all the time. I've heard rumours that
Mr BMW was a journalist. Would newspapers indulge in entrapment? I'm afraid I'm prepared to believe they would.
I wish I could say that our congregation doubles during the fortnight. But we're a real presence during the tournament - as the camera pulls back at the end of the day's broadcast, you'll see our spire rising up in the distance.
Our association with the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club goes back a long way. We have a memorial to Kathleen "Kitty" Godfree, who died in 1992, and her husband, Leslie, who died in 1971. They won at Wimbledon separately and together: the ladies' singles (twice), the mixed doubles (once together) and the gentlemen's doubles. What a match theirs was.
To the barricades
Unless you're willing to brave our tower armed with binoculars, you can't watch the tennis from the church but you can hear it. There's no mistaking the sound of a big match - and the roar when it looks like Andy Murray is winning. That's one reason we don't hold weddings during the fortnight - too much distraction from the other kind of match. Also, no church events can be planned between noon and 2pm or during early evening, because the traffic is gridlocked.
The buzz starts when the barricades go up along the pavement. Families with teenage children get busy. If the children have been sufficiently organised, they will have won roles as security guards or waiters in the restaurants. The lucky few are chosen as ballboys or ballgirls. This gives us a different television game from spot-the-celebrity; there's a good chance that we will know at least one of the ballboys or ballgirls from the congregation.
Many of the players are far from home, so we put posters in the restrooms with our contact details; if anyone needs pastoral care or spiritual support, they know where to find us. How do people cope when there are crises miles away from home?
Unless the tournament is delayed by rain, the middle Sunday is normally a pause in the tennis. Our main, 9.30am service is broadcast on Radio Wimbledon. As with any broadcast service (or, indeed, any service), we never know who is listening.
Our challenge is to create a Communion in which there are no silences or, for that matter, unintended comments. The lapel microphone is a modern menace for priests. I've gone into the vestry and said, "Did you see that woman's hat!" - only to discover that I was still "on air" in church.
In the evening of the middle Sunday, we have an open-air service in the field, followed by a picnic. We hope that Murray won't already be free to join
us by that stage but we'll keep a place for him and any other top players. We've not entertained any so far, but we live in hope. Tennis and our church, after all, start from the same position: love all. l
The Reverend Mary Bide is the rector of St Mary's Church, Wimbledon