Ethics Quiz: Never Mind Breastfeeding In Church, What About Gus the Asparagus Man?

If churchgoers’ sensibilities regarding mothers breastfeeding during a religious service are worthy of respect and deference, what about their sensibilities regarding people dressed like vegetables?

This past Sunday, England’s Worcester Cathedral  kicked off the region’s annual Asparagus Festival with a unique ceremonial blessing. A man in a suit and tie carried a bundle of the vegetable to the front of the church, followed by a man costumed as a spear of asparagus (Gus the Asparagus Man) and someone costumed as St. George, shield and all. The cathedral’s Precentor then blessed the crop.

Many churchgoers were offended. “This is an absurd pantomime-type scene that makes a mockery of Christian worship,” said one.  A popular religious blogger asked, “Where’s the sprout liturgy, or equality for mushrooms? Would the Dean really permit a walking fungus to participate in an act of divine worship?”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is..

Was it unethical for the Church of England to present such a whimsical service to its unsuspecting members?

The values to consider here are trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility.

What do you think?


Pointer: Fred

69 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: Never Mind Breastfeeding In Church, What About Gus the Asparagus Man?

  1. I honestly don’t think we are getting the entire story on this one; “usually” these kind of things are done with an intentional purpose other than what is initially perceived to make a memorable point in an unusual way, if that’s not the case here I’d be surprised.

    It’s really easy for news sources to strip one segment out of an event to intentionally change the purpose of the segment; the popular term would be lies by omission.

    I can’t personally judge the ethics of this event without knowing the entire context of the event, the rest of you can make your own choices.

    • If it was a real church service, what context would change the verdict? The only one I can think of would be if they did this every year. I’m assuming not, but I’m not even certain that would change the analysis. Should a religious ceremony be merged with product promotion?

      • Jack Marshall asked, “If it was a real church service, what context would change the verdict?”

        Honestly Jack, how can I answer that without knowing the context first? I’m certainly not going to make up some hypothetical context and waste my time arguing about it.

        Jack Marshall asked, “The only one I can think of would be if they did this every year.”

        So what if they do it every year, does that or should that make a difference?

        Jack Marshall asked, “Should a religious ceremony be merged with product promotion?”

        Product promotion?

        Years ago, they use to go out and bless farmers fields, new houses, new barn, livestock, etc. Whatcha wanna bet there are still communities that do those sorts of things?

        • “Years ago, they use to go out and bless farmers fields, new houses, new barn, livestock, etc. Whatcha wanna bet there are still communities that do those sorts of things?”

          That was my first thought. I live in the mid-west and it wouldn’t surprise me one iota if there was a service dedicated to the blessing of crops. It’s not product promotion. It’s praying and hoping for a bountiful harvest for the families who do the hard work of farming. Perhaps in this area of England there are a lot of asparagus farmers? Don’t know.

          • At my local church, there is a blessing of the food for Thanksgiving dinners, and on St. Francis day there is a blessing of pets. All done tastefully and without disrupting the regular services (I assure you, we don’t have horses walking down to the altar for the blessing). I’ve seen the priest bless new cars for protection from accidents, and back where I grew up it was very common to bring a priest for groundbreaking of construction projects for a blessing for the safety of the workers. I wouldn’t think any of those as disrespectful. I guess it’s a matter of etiquette, and the cultural norms of the congregation. Blessing a bunch of asparagusses (asparagii?) from the first picking would probably be no big deal; the dressed up characters, way over the top.

            • I’ve also heard of blessing of motorcycles (though that’s more of an Episcopal thing), which struck me as a little unusual, but, if there are these guys zooming around on motorcycles who have crosses instead of skulls on back of their jackets, more power to them. Blessing of Thanksgiving donations of food and Franciscan blessing of the animals (done after Mass) are both fairly common.

              Let’s not also forget that it’s not unheard of to bless fighting ships when they are “christened,” in fact it is prescribed in the UK that the 107th psalm (they that go down to the sea in ships…) be sung at the launching of a warship. In the UK there is also a service for the consecration of an infantry regiment’s colors when they receive a new set. That’s right, those flags you see the guards carrying before them as they march to the palace are in fact blessed objects. On the US side everyone knows the story of Father Corby giving mass absolution (last done during the Crusades) to the Irish Brigade before the Battle of Gettysburg. The 509th Composite Group received a blessing before they departed on their missions to hit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A few weekends ago my parish priest subtly defended the hit on Syria, saying that children should not have to fear their own governments and praise God something was done.

              Here’s the thing: the same people who would defend the wearing of absurd costumes like the one in the picture, and defend play-acting and dancing (often including ridiculous ribbon-twirling) during Mass, saying that the frozen chosen need to lighten up and move with the times, would freak out over any of the above religious services. They want their brand of belief and no other.

              • Not so, Steve. I would love to see a little frivolity in church, because, like everything else, these days our religions have gotten way too serious about themselves. Worse, as you mentioned, every one of them is convinced that they and they alone have the answer. Personally, I would be happy finding out what the question is.

  2. More from the indignant blogger linked in the post:

    “Gus the Asparagusman (for it is he) has no place at all in a worshipful act of reverence: he doesn’t direct our minds to heaven or toward God, but points us to Dipsy and Tinky Winky somewhere in La La Land. Sanctity should be free from all uncleanness, and that includes buffoonery, mumbo jumbo and capers (both sorts).

    Honestly, if the Church of England can bless increasingly bent sticks of asparagus, it can surely offer a ceremonial rite for anything – literally, anything. And that, of course, is exactly where we’re heading.”

    • Blessing crops is as old as Christianity itself, so the mere concept of the ceremony is no more absurd than the religion itself. The addition of the Jolly Green Giant’s little cousin is just odd….

      I am also not certain why Saint George made an appearance either. Some religious fraternal organizations, such as Knights of Columbus (Catholic-not Anglican) have similar ceremonial costumes to serve as “guards” during services at the invitation of the priest.

      Yet roll play of historical figures during a service itself is not something I’ve heard of. The closest might be carrying the cross on ones back during Good Friday, but that is done in somber fashion (there is no vegetable man, following behind taking the place of Saint Simon). There is certainly no church named after the sacred heart of Artichoke Man.

      Churches are occasionally host to theatrical works, rather than strict liturgy. Christmas pageants, Easter Pageants, Pius the Musical, etc. Dressing up as sheep and goats for these performances is expected. Again though, the Three Maji were not accompanied by a walking cucumber.

      Saint John the Baptist washed away the sins of his followers in preparation for the coming of Christ, not the dirt from Lettuce Man prior to preparation for Caesar’s salad.

      Herod, though, may have served a head of lettuce served on platter….

    • I for one would probably attend church more often if there were a little more buffoonery, mumbo jumbo and capers.

      Perhaps even some light japery.

      • It may interest you to know, just for the sake of wider information, that the changes in the way the mass is celebrated in the Catholic Church was transformed by Vatican 2. Here is a short video which indicates what ‘japery’ will produce:

      • If you want to understand how traditional Catholics — those who oppose the changes in the Mass — understand the change, you can watch and listen to this fellow, and take notice of the ridiculous capers:

      • The traditional Latin Mass (Tridentine Mass) is a radically different animal. It is the Mass which expresses the sacred nature of the Rite, and which is carried out in silence with the priest facing the altar. It has to be understood and he congregation, in their understanding of what goes on, participates liturgically in the process (but in relative silence).

        This video is narrated in Spanish but the Mass is one celebrated in France. There is a movement within the Church to reestablish the traditional mass, and a good deal of conflict that the Catholic religions is being structurally decimated by ‘modernists’.

      • Chris writes: “I for one would probably attend church more often if there were a little more buffoonery, mumbo jumbo and capers.”

        The purpose of a sacred ritual, be it Hindu or Japanese or Hopi, is not ever to bring forward japery or silliness, but to evoke the presence of the sacred, as it is understood. Our theatre evolves from the sacred religious traditions and, as a reference, King Lear is a drama which shows itself capable of getting to the very heart of human life, sorrow, suffering, beauty, and transformation. Greek Tragedy, as a cathartic experience, has everything to do with the religious traditions and is an extension of them effectively.

        Similarly, the traditional mass, and the concept upon which mass is based, is not a joke (though I accept that those inclined to hate religion, and those who hold to the ideas and ideals of religion, often express their contempt for Christianity and its rites) and is really a profound enactment through complex symbols. But in order to understand it one has to participate in it, if only in understanding the liturgy.

        When people want ‘japery’, or silliness, it means (IMV) that they cannot see what is being enacted in the Mass. They have no relationship to it. The structure of it and what stands behind it has no meaning for them. So, on one hand, they will allow it to be destroyed (as so much is destroyed in our world: by negligence, by ignorance of what stands to be lost), and 2) they will demand that the sacred thing that they hate, or which makes too many demands on them, be changed into something else. A comedy show, a spectacle, what-have-you.

        I think one could draw a correspondence between a culture that relinquishes, or outrightly destroys, its capacity to understand and appreciate a sacred rite — which takes thoughtful contemplation, some study, and also meditation and possibly even prayer — and a culture that similarly abandons its intellectual traditions, and as well for the traditions that would allow it to understand even the Constitution and the high value expressed in it. There is a correspondence in the Dumbing Down Process. It does not just happen in one area, but occurs in different areas, and yet leads to a similar result.

        Nescience in effect.

        • There is room for humor to make a point in a sermon. There is room for topicality. There is room for differences. However, the Mass, indeed any service of worship, isn’t a place or a time for clowning, acting foolish, or poking fun. It’s not entertainment and it’s not comedy. It’s not pitched at a teenage mentality audience by whom nothing can ever be taken seriously and to whom every damn thing is an opportunity to make a sophomoric, unfunny joke or a statement of defiance. If that’s your attitude then you don’t belong there, and kudos to clergy and parents who enforce that. Kudos also to high clergy who hold the parish clergy to standards.

          • My comment was, itself, japery. I understand perfectly that some religious events are intended to be solemn, and I am not seriously suggesting that should change (or that I would actually start attending religious services regularly if it did).

            I was poking fun not at the church itself, but at the hilariously phrased sentence “Sanctity should be free from all uncleanness, and that includes buffoonery, mumbo jumbo and capers (both sorts).” Even though he has a point, the blogger here comes off sounding like a humorless scold from another time period.

                  • Unlikely, that. He had his chance (40 days in the wilderness) and, when tempted, simply commanded “Get thee behind me, Satan”.

                • Interesting to note that the Christian story has the second aspect, the first being ‘the olive branch approach’: the representative of the reigning metaphysical lord of creation who visits the Earth, or more properly speaking a division of that self-same divinity, and makes his will clear. But offers himself up with no resistance for a metaphysical purpose.

                  The mission and what is to be done is set in motion, but then there is the apocalypic element in an undefined future where divinity returns under a very different aspect. “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war’. The vision is one of the absolute overturning of a moral and social order which had become corrupt. To understand Christianity, and a deeply impressed psychological aspect of Occidental metaphysics, one has to understand the second part of the manifestation. Not exactly sweet Christian toleration….

                  Similarly, in Hindu mythology, there is Kalki, the 10th and final avatar of Vishnu, a future event, and there are striking similarities: a warrior on a horse, the sword, the brutal assault on decadent culture.

            • Catholicism, in its traditional sense (and Anglicism of course too) is for our modernity a sort of ‘relic’. The metaphysics that support the belief are in our present unthinkable, in the sense that they are non-conceivable.

              To the modern perspective those metaphysics cannot exist, and so they begin to cease to exist.

              So, to be a Christian or a Catholic in the present is in a sense to be involved in a metaphysical view that is fading out of existence.

              It is likely that you, along with millions of others, see a ritual of that sort os a performance ‘intending solemnity’. But for one who believes that what happens there really happens, it is a solemn event. And anything that detracts from that would be seen as buffoonery and mumbo-jumbo.

              Sorry, I know that what I write comes across as sententious. It’s only that I feel there are serious issues at stake when, as in our present, we can no longer see what was once seen and understood.

              • In a recent sermon, my pastor had a goldfish bowl on a stand during the sermon. At one point, he pulled a fish out of the bowl and placed it on the stand while continuing the sermon. Note we had a camera above the bowl, so you could see the fish flopping…

                He then made his point: some of you are more worried about this fish than the souls of the unsaved. He returned the fish to the bowl (none the worse for wear) and wrapped up the service. It was a powerful point, because it engaged the emotions to evoke an understanding of what a concern for the lost should feel like.

                • Boy, that story reminds me why I’m glad I don’t go to church anymore. Yes, I am more worried about objective harm caused to living beings than I am abstract concepts that no one can prove exists. No, I am not going to spend my life worrying about my non-Christian friends being tortured for all eternity because I can’t convince them to abandon their religious beliefs and accept mine. I did that enough as a child and it was traumatic. But asparagus is apparently offensive for some people.

                  • Not sure I much care for that approach either. I am all for getting the word.out, but an unwilling congregation is worthless. That said, I might have pulled the Clarence Darrow approach and left a cigar burning for a while, then asked honestly who was watching the cigar ash get long instead of paying attention to what I was saying.

  3. That’s…odd. I can see the blessing of items, including wheat, etc. In fact every year several seaside cities hold the Blessing of the Fleet, where the fishing boats are blessed in the hopes of good catches. NY has extended that tradition to the FDNY fleet. There is certainly room for unusual services or services with themes such as the Red Mass, Blue Mass, and White Mass. There is in fact a whole unique ceremony called the Kirking of the Tartan where swaths of tartan cloth are placed on the altar and blessed. It’s also not unheard of for children to place new book bags in front of the church at the beginning of the school year to have them blessed in the hopes for a productive year of learning. However, none of these involve costumes or pantomime.

    The appearance of St. George in church, being the patron of England, is not that odd, but it’s a stretch. Theatrical performance really doesn’t belong in a Mass, partly because it’s done for the glory of the actors as much as that of God, partly because it’s distracting from the Mass itself. I would have no problem with the church putting on a production of St. George and the Dragon apart from the Mass, just as several churches put on the Passion apart from the Mass, but during the Mass the focus is supposed to be on the readings, the prayers, and the Eucharist. Massgoers should also be participating, not feeling like they need popcorn.

    The use of absurd costumes is right out. No one can take a Mass seriously with a costumed character who looks like a Disney version of a Veggietales character plunked down in the center of it, and especially not next to a robed choir and classically clad priest. It looks like a parody of the Mass or something you would see in a Mel Brooks movie.

    If the church leadership didn’t let their members know this was coming, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of them got offended. Certain people take their faith very seriously. I am in the middle, and I would be offended because the clergy, who of all people should be taking the faith seriously, apparently don’t take it seriously enough to warn the congregation of a fairly radical departure from the norm, and don’t take it seriously enough to try to devise a departure that won’t jar the faithful and leave them asking what the heck that was all about. If the clergy don’t take the faith seriously, who will?

  4. I’m waiting for The Blessing of the Broccoli. Nothing that the Anglicans would do these days would surprise me.

  5. If blessing the asparagus is a tradition that has been followed for many years in that particular church, then I believe it is ethical to continue it. But then, how many years does something have to be practiced to become a tradition? All traditions we practice now had to be performed for the first time at some point and I’m sure there was somebody complaining. I do agree with Steve-O that people dressed in costumes shouldn’t be involved in the actual religious rite.

  6. I’d think it’s a holdover tradition like mummers and miracle plays (the St. George in costume) that some newcomer or tourist got offended by. Like blessing of pets ceremonies or example domesticated sheep for propserity. I don’t see why a blessing ceremony is a problem, the asparagus won’t mess on the floor or raise a stink. The only problem is if someone took the chance to advertise slipped into a service, but it doesn’t look like that. It’s a blessing on something important to unconventionally (but not lewd or under-) dressed people. Someone could wear mismatched or clashing clothing for any number of reasons, from mental to financial, That’s not enough to ban them. They came respectfully, and arranged for a blessing from the priests.

    Only people with a chronic need to whine will argue and try to disrupt what was approved by the church hierarchy. The priests or preachers should have the most say over what is disruptive in their ceremonies. As they were part of the blessing, a harmless activity, they did not object. These objectors have no right to disrupt because they are ignorant of the whys.

    • mariedowd wrote, “These objectors have no right to disrupt because they are ignorant of the whys.”

      I don’t remember anything about a disruption; being offended is not the same as a disruption.

      Maybe you should rethink about that ” no right” statement.

  7. It looks like something Monte Python would dream up. The look on the face of the person in front is very Monte Python-ish.

  8. “Whimsical pantomime” pretty much describes all the high masses and stations of the cross and funeral masses and midnight masses and processions I served in as an altar boy. Of course Bruegel is my personal favorite. I don’t see anyone puking or being dunked in a dunk tank in this pantomime. And what’s more English than a pantomime? I think Mr. Asparagus is great. Shades of Monty Python, and that can’t be bad.

  9. So if they stop doing this because nobody likes the man in the vegetable costume, does that make him Gus the As-pariah-gus Man?


  10. I’m sorry, but I don’t see any reason to take offense. Whatever else the Church, Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian of Methodist (or any other religion, and I include Islam) should be concerned with, serving the community in which it finds itself should be paramount. One of the greatest services anyone can offer a community is the ability to laugh at itself or to celebrate someone or something that is important to the community. How can Christians hope to promote the “joyous good news” when they themselves are dour, solemn, somber grave fun-hating and just dull. Mocking the religion is dumb and probably evil, but interject a bit of fun into the ritual is…well, fun.

    • Dragin writes: …should be concerned with, serving the community in which it finds itself should be paramount. One of the greatest services anyone can offer a community is the ability to laugh at itself or to celebrate someone or something that is important to the community. How can Christians hope to promote the “joyous good news” when they themselves are dour, solemn, somber grave fun-hating and just dull. Mocking the religion is dumb and probably evil, but interject a bit of fun into the ritual is…well, fun.

      Fundamentally incorrect, at least from a traditionalist perspective. Here’s why. Essentially, in Christianity, ‘to serve’ means to serve the salvific process. If one does not understand that, or if one regards it as unreal or non-real, well, there is no more discussion required. There would at that point be no effective understanding of Christianity.

      But if Christian service, in the liturgical aspect, is understood to be an enactment of the sacrifice of Jesus for man, then the notion of ‘service’ will be seen to revolve around that act. Pretty heavy stuff really.

      The priest in a traditional mass faces the altar, not the people. In the Novus Ordo Mass the priest faces the congregation. The shift has been taken to mean a great deal (by those in pro and those in contra). Instead of serving the sacred (provided one believes that is possible) and drawing the congregation into that ritual by enacting the Traditional Mass facing the altar, the New Mass turns it around, effectively turning it away from the alter. Much has been written on this, and criticisms of course. The shift is dramatic.

      To say that ‘the greatest service anyone can offer a community is the ability to laugh at itself’ is a statement that can be challenged. But it fits with changes in the mass which, interestingly enough, have resulted in the priest being an entertainer and comedienne.

      Doesn’t help much the solemnity of the rite. But that is progress if one does not appreciate or understand it.

      Q: “How can Christians hope to promote the “joyous good news” when they themselves are dour, solemn, somber grave fun-hating and just dull.”

      A: There is a melancholy aspect to Catholic ritual, the recognition of a loss. Just as there is a celebratory aspect in the liturgy (and the Christian story) there is also a realisation of tragedy. The ‘good news’ is the salvation of man and the arrival of a new order of possibility for man, in a new relationship to life. But it is not an invitation to live non-seriously, and certainly to fail to understand the inner dimension of the sacrifice.

      Hard to say if — in the long run — more will be gained from seriousness and gravity, or from silliness and levity. But, statements about that will inevitably reveal how one understands life itself.

  11. I’ll say as a Catholic, and with my tongue planted firmly on my cheek, that Anglicans had this coming from the day they decided to split off.

  12. I wanna know what they told the guy in the asparagus costume to convince him that wearing that costume was “the right thing to do”?

    Of course, maybe it’s a honorary position reserved for wealthy members that contribute vast sums of money to the church, a status symbol. 😉

    They would never have gotten me to wear that costume regardless of the reasoning behind it. I would have told the Priest to wear it himself, which would bring back memories of Paul Simon trying to be serious in a turkey costume.

  13. For a second, I thought that it was Gumby (Eddie Murphy). That could’ve been incredibly offensive and funny at the same time 🙂

    The blessing of foodstuffs has been around for a long time. Using some symbology, such as a basket of said foodstuffs in the procession has also been around for a long time. That’s not the real issue.

    To me the question is, is the Gumby asparagus and dressed up St. George D&D character appropriate. And I think that’s something for each parish to decide. There’s a parish near me, where the priest uses a 1-3 minute clip from a recent tv show/news on their overhead projector during mass to emphasize the point of the homily. Some parishes are very particular about dress codes and some are incredibly relaxed. This type of thing may be fine and dandy in some areas, and be considered black heresy at others.

    I think this is an interesting learning experience for the parish and priest; an opportunity for the flock to observe an expansion of the ways to worship and to provide feedback to their priest as to whether they are progressive enough (or have a sense of humor) to accept an unusual addition to their ceremony or prefer to remain more traditional. This is part of how religion grows and both the people and religion adapt to each other. Catholic churches rarely have mass in Latin anymore- I’m sure the first time mass was said in another language, people went nuts. Religion evolves (oops! bad sciency word!) with the people who celebrate it.

    Hopefully everyone (or most everyone) will speak up to their priest – not just the offended biddies (clutching my pearls here). And hopefully the priest will learn if this Gumby and the D&D knight were in bad taste or if this is something that engages his flock and helps them become more involved with their parish and religion.

  14. If I’m not mistaken, and I’m sure I will be corrected, the heart of the service starts with four words,”Lift up your hearts.” (Sursum corda in Latin.) It’s the beginning of the communion ritual, a call to join the mystical body of Jesus. I doubt that any celebrant does anything cute after those words are spoken.

    As for Christian humor and the desire to see God in everything on Earth, I want to quote the eminent theologian, Garrison Keillor: “If you believe in a just and loving God, then life is a comedy.

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