Grumpy old clergyman comes home cross

Jan 21st, 2007 | By | Category: Church of Ireland Comment

I have spent twenty years trying to convince my unbaptised, agnostic father that the Church is not full of old women. Sometimes I think he is right and that it’s me who has been wrong for the past two decades.

Pat Semple’s poetry collection The Rectory Dog has a poem called “The Stone Thrower”, the words of which came home forcibly this evening, the words describe the sort of church my father believes is the norm.

The Stone Thrower

The service over
he disrobes and puts
each item in its place
and leaves the church,

drives to the house
of the parish theologian;
the thinking man.
He takes up stones

and hurls them through
the windows at the back.
To tinkling glass he shouts:
‘You weren’t in church,

get up, come out,
you let me down,
the church was full
of old women of both genders,

watching every move
and every word,
determined by their scrutiny
to imprison life in liturgy,

and to affirm allegiance
to the tribe,
abhorring everything that disturbs
the equilibrium of their dependence.’

This evening the churches in our area held their annual service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It was dismally attended, which was almost a relief because there was one of those moments when my father would have said, “I told you so”.

At one point in the liturgy we had to touch the person next to us and say, “The touch of Jesus, pass it on”. Is this serious? I thought. I’m not sure whether I felt it was a banality worthy of the school playground, or whether it was 1960s touchy feeliness at its worst.

The man in my church who is like Pat Semple’s parish theologian wasn’t there to give his opinion. A man deeply rooted in Scripture, I think he would have quietly commented that he didn’t know there was such a line in the Gospels as “The touch of Jesus, pass it on”.

At a time when the Church in Ireland has to fight for its very survival, perhaps it will be necessary to break metaphorical windows, if not physical ones, to shock the old women into looking for Jesus of Nazareth and not for a 1960s hippy. The liberal equilibrium needs to be upset.

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