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Joy Atkins

Ode to Joy

for Joy Atkins, on her departure from St Johns in October 2007

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

but here’s no prickly rose; no violet,
no lily, dandelion or deadly nightshade—
just Joy, so now let Joy be unconfined!
But what if names were different? If Joy were Grace,
or Faith were Hope, or Mark
should suddenly become a Euro? Would
it somehow change their personality?
See how a person’s captured by their name!
How did Joy come to own hers quite so well?
Did she grow into it? Or did she make
her first entrance to the maternity ward
look round, grin and say “hey, great job, mum”?
And so they rubbed out Ermintrude
and quickly put down Joy on the birth certificate?
Whichever way it was, she lives her name. 

Oh, but life is harsh. So many hopes
that disappoint us: from our childhood days
the prayer book promised we would always share
in everlasting Joy and Felicity,
and now we have no Joy, and Felicity
never bothered to show up at all.
We’ve lost our Will, and now our Joy deserts us,
we cling only to Faith, and Alan…but anyway
we shall retain our memories of Joy… 

Those games nights at Pathfinders where piles of boys
formed rugby scrums across the furniture,
the sofas crushed beneath the weight
of teenagers with more body than sense… 

The would-be starlets of the silver screen
making their first faltering film debuts
on Joy von Spielberg’s video camera… 

Lazer Light, Funzone, Maze—all manner of events
spelled with a Z, policed by men in red
and vicars strangely dressed in football shirts…

Joy joining with Faith in the music group,
making those lovely harmonies without
the slightest clue which notes she might be singing…

Joy giving notices for Soul in Ealing—
in any corner of suburbia
where gangs of kids with paint from B&Q
could splash the gospel on an estate wall
and clear the rubbish out of people’s lives
you may find Joy encouraging the troops
and saying everything was Fab and Great—
and she can say that and not make you cringe,
and that’s a skill that get’s you on Blue Peter… 

Her secret’s no great mystery: you just need
to be 30-something going on sixteen.
And care. And pray. That spiritual stuff
holds you together better than Pritstick
on a paper wall chart of Explorers’ hands.
And if you have a heart, then wear it well
out on your sleeve (though be quite careful
when you need to wipe your nose).

If Joy was given just one other name
it ought to be Enthusiasm, but I guess
Enthusiasm Atkins sounds more like
an eighteenth century landscape gardener
than a would-be vicar from the twenty first,
so we’re content with Joy.  And Joy can break
your heart; to what young swains may it
be prophesied, You shall go out with Joy?... 

And it is true that often Joy would entertain
young men in groups for evenings at her flat—
teaching RE to fifteen year old boys
(and girls of course—the few who need some help)
and making bible study vaguely cool.
Finding some space for God on MSN
is a challenge of the age:  he doesn’t have
smart videos on YouTube or a must-read blog.
How will those kids make out with God? Some will,
some won’t, but nothing’s wasted. They’ll all know
that someone cared and sometimes understood.
It was Jesus, but they called him Joy. 

And now we hear good tidings of great Joy
to us and personkind, for she goes hence
unto the Shire of Nottingham, there to become
a vicaress most evangelical.
Who will have Joy then? On what unsuspecting parish
will this quiet tornado next descend
and grant that it should be
that where’s there’s sadness, ever Joy?
She will go on and love and be much loved,
and at the end, when according to the book
of Revelation, we the saved will gain
a white stone with a new name on it, God’ll be hard pushed
on Joy’s rock to come up with something better.
This thing began with Shakespeare, so I’ll end
with a line from Keats’s Ode To A  Church Youth Worker:
a thing of beauty is our Joy, for ever...


Performed in the crypt at St Johns, West Ealing on October 7 2007. Joy had been Youth Worker at St Johns and left to train for ordination to the ministry.