Living in the country, anonymity is very difficult, but perhaps allowing identifiability is acceptable if the remarks are complimentary.
Living in two places catches one out. Making tea at 7.30 this morning, the thought occurred that there was nothing for breakfast other than a tin of Fox’s chocolate biscuits. The prospect of going out to conduct three morning services having eaten only chocolate biscuits did not seem inviting.
Heading out into a small rural Irish town at 8 am on a Sunday morning did not offer many possibilities. The Centra supermarket was just turning on its lights and a man was busy sorting out the Sunday papers. A breakfast roll would not be an option; the hot food bar was in darkness. Armed with a box of Frosties and a copy of the Sunday Tribune , an unlikely sight walked back up the street. Whatever the adverts for Frosties, five hours later their effect had long since worn off.
Back down the street at lunchtime, the Coffee Dock café was buzzing with people. A table was free against the far wall and no-one seemed to notice a dark-suited cleric slip into a seat. It was 26 degrees outside and shepherd’s pie or roast beef did not look tempting. “Quiche and salad and a pot of tea, please”.
The quiche and salad came on a huge plate. “Would you like brown bread?”
A basket with three slices of wheaten bread and butter was placed on the table.
Totting up the bill, it came to €13 – €11.50 for the meal and €1.50 for the tea.
At the till, a young lady rang up €9.50.
“That’s not right”, said her companion.
Indeed, it was not. It was €3.50 short.
“I think you have undercharged me”.
“It’s €8″, said the companion.
“I don’t think that’s enough, you have a living to make”.
The lady was not to be budged, “€8 please”.
In this Ireland where the scruffy Welshman who is England’s Archbishop of Canterbury once suggested that the church had lost all credibility, where the recession is biting deeply, where businesses have to be hard-headed to survive, someone working long hours in a café was prepared to knock €5 off a €13 bill for no reason other than a clerical collar.
In the Ireland beyond the suburbs of Dublin, the church is still held in high regard, still respected, despite everything. In humility, it needs to respond to that respect, to show to people the same generosity and kindness it has received down the years.