Here to stay

Nov 25th, 2010 | By | Category: Ministry

“It’s alright for you clergy – you all have safe jobs”.

“I don’t suppose anyone’s job is safe anymore – what if the parish can no longer pay?  No-one else has any money to bail us out”.

But what if they really could no longer pay?  Where would a 50 year old clergyman find work?  There would be England – but then memories of going to church in England on a summer’s Sunday came to mind.

I had got up at 7.15 in order to go to church. The rest of the house was fast asleep and I crept around the house. In an old English house it is hard to creep, every floorboard creaked as I went down the stairs. I was sure I must have made enough noise to waken everyone by the time I went out of the door at ten to eight to walk the hundred yards to the village church.

You had to have the sort of mind that would do well on TV quiz programmes like ‘Countdown’ in order to understand the notice board at the church gate. The service was at a different time every Sunday and the time of the service was determined by which Sunday of the month it might be, except on months when there were five Sundays, when the time and venue of the service would be advertised on a notice board inside the church.

A man who might have passed as a retired headmaster greeted me at the door. He handed me a book and said, ‘we’re up in the choir this morning’. Dressed in a short sleeved summer shirt and cream cotton trousers and wearing shoes but no socks (we were on the way home from a holiday in France), I didn’t look like a typical Church of England member, but I wasn’t offered any more advice. I went up to the choir stalls and sat beside two older ladies who offered me no greeting but continued their conversation which seemed chiefly to centre on the price of hotel rooms in Folkestone and how both of them enjoyed the spaciousness of their double beds since the demise of their respective husbands. One lady was anxious lest her offer to the hotel to pay a single room supplement might mean she would be put into a room with a single bed. (I wondered if this is the sort of conversation that normally takes place in church pews).

The clergyman came out of the vestry at 8 o’clock precisely. The congregation for the only service in the village that day numbered nine. There was one young couple, but the reason for their presence became clear when the clergyman began to read the banns for their marriage. He commented to the young lady that she came from a very nice part of the Isle of Wight and that he had been there himself once and had almost missed the ferry. He then launched straight into the Communion service. There were no page numbers given and no attempt to announce what was happening next. It had been at least twenty years since I had attended a service from the Book of Common Prayer as used by the Church of England and I found myself fumbling through the pages.

By the end of the service I was almost relieved to go. Apart from the clergyman at the door, no-one spoke to me.  It would be hard to imagine anywhere in Ireland being quite so unfriendly.

Whatever happens with the economy, to leave Ireland will never be an option.

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