John Humphrys remembers his father as not being very favourably disposed towards clergy,
“That can probably be traced to an experience he had as a young man when he was staying with his aunt at her little cottage in a Somerset village not long after the First WorId War had ended. They were about to sit down for Sunday lunch when the door burst open and the vicar strode in. Without so much as a by-yourleave, a tap on the door or even ‘Good morning’, he demanded to know why my great-aunt had not been at the morning service. She did a little bob – not quite a curtsy, but not far from it – and stammered some sort of apology. She tried to explain that she seldom had visitors and she’d been busy preparing lunch for her nephew whom she hadn’t seen for a year and who had come from a long way away (the other side of the Severn estuary) but she’d make sure to turn up for evensong. He was having none of it. He barked at her, ‘See that you do! Don’t let it happen again!’ and marched out without another word. He did not even acknowledge the presence of her guest.
My father was outraged and remembered that encounter in minute detail until his dying day. How dare the vicar treat his aunt with such disdain – exactly like a lord of the manor dealing with a serf! But those were the days of deference, especially in a rural backwater like Wellow in Somerset, when the working class knew its place and would never have dared to stand up to the authority of the vicar”.
John Humphrys’ father’s story is actually reassuring, this was how working-class people experienced the church. It was not something I imagined. Growing up in a working-class family in a rural backwater of Somerset, the church never seemed to have much time for people like me.
When there is a temptation to just slip down into the cosy middle class existence of much of ministry in south County Dublin, I have to stop and ask, “What about people like myself?” Does people’s experience of the church a century later still resemble that of John Humphrys’ father in the 1920s?