On not being a bishop

Jun 8th, 2012 | By | Category: Ministry

Sitting in a French restaurant, church politics is discussed, particularly the succession of bishops.

‘Would you like to be a bishop?’

‘No, I couldn’t think of anything worse. None of the good stuff of parish life and constant complaints from every malcontent’.

Parish life might be boring, but being bored is OK. Coping with the most mundane, the most ordinary, the most menial tasks is OK, it’s better than the sort of rubbish confronting bishops.

I can understand why Flann O’Brien’s Garda sergeant wanted everything to be about bicycles, or dog licences or papers for bulls. The church equivalent would be the sort of stuff with which parish clergy are familiar.

I can read from The Third Policeman and substitute all the parish equivalents so that I’m standing in the sergeant’s large black boots.

“Is it about a bicycle?” he asked.

His expression when I encountered it was unexpectedly reassuring. His face was gross and far from beautiful but he had modified and assembled his various unpleasant features in some skilful way so that they expressed to me good nature, politeness and infinite patience. In the front of his peaked official cap was an important-looking badge and over it in golden letters was the word SERGEANT. It was Sergeant Pluck himself.

“No,” I answered, stretching forth my hand to lean with it against the counter. The Sergeant looked at me incredulously.

“Are you sure?” he asked.


“Not about a motor-cycle?”


“One with overhead valves and a dynamo for light? Or with racing handle-bars?”


“In that circumstantial eventuality there can be no question of a motor-bicycle,” he said. He looked surprised and puzzled and leaned sideways on the counter on the prop of his left elbow, putting the knuckles of his right hand between his yellow teeth and raising three enormous wrinkles of perplexity on his forehead. I decided now that he was a simple man and that I would have no difficulty in dealing with him exactly as I desired and finding out from him what had happened to the black box. I did not understand clearly the reason for his questions about bicycles but I made up my mind to answer everything carefully, to bide my time and to be cunning in all my dealings with him. He moved away abstractedly, came back and handed me a bundle of differently-coloured papers which looked like application forms for bull-licences and dog-licences and the like.

“It would be no harm if you filled up these forms,” he said. “Tell me,” he continued, “would it be true that you are an itinerant dentist and that you came on a tricycle?”

“It would not,” I replied.

“On a patent tandem?”


“Dentists are an unpredictable coterie of people,” he said. “Do you tell me it was a velocipede or a penny-farthing?”

“I do not,” I said evenly. He gave me a long searching look as if to see whether I was serious in what I was saying, again wrinkling up his brow.

“Then maybe you are no dentist at all,” he said, “but only a man after a dog licence or papers for a bull?”

“I did not say I was a dentist,” I said sharply, “and I did not say anything about a bull.”

The Sergeant looked at me incredulously.

Like to be a bishop? The look would be as incredulous as that of Sergeant Pluck.

Leave Comment