There's a scene in Alan Bennett's The Laying on of Hands where a member of the congregation at a memorial service walks into the church carrying a packet of cigarettes. The following conversation ensues:
"She was in the next pew, but spotting the cigarettes the spirits of a recently ennobled novelist rose. 'You can smoke,' she whispered.
Her companion shook her head. 'I don't think so.'
'I see no signs saying not. Is that one?'
Fumbling for her spectacles she peered at a plaque affixed to a pillar.
'I think,' said her friend, 'that's one of the Stations of the Cross.'
'Really? Well I'm sure I saw an ashtray as I was coming in.'
'That was holy water.'"
Well, it appears that someone at the Welsh Assembly is an Alan Bennett fan. Today's paper reports that churches of all denominations are being ordered to put up 'No Smoking' signs when the ban on smoking in public places comes in later this year in England and Wales. The Church had assumed that, although churches would be covered by the legislation, there would be no need for signs, as nobody smokes in places of worship anyway.
The Welsh Assembly has sent out information packs to churches, containing full-colour, 24-page brochures. As well as 'No Smoking' signs, churches have been asked to put up signs giving helpline numbers for smokers to quit.
A Welsh vicar is quoted as saying, "I can't imagine anyone smoking in a church. It happened once at a wedding and I made a subtle remark and the man put out the cigarette.
"In Wales everything is bilingual so the notices have to be printed twice. The cost must be huge. God has a sense of humour, though, because the literature was sent on February 21 - Ash Wednesday."