Charlie was at least forty years my senior, though could never break through the decades of conditioning that told him that he should address the Rector as though he were a schoolboy and the clergyman a stern master at the front of the classroom. Occasionally, there would be anecdotes from his long years of memory, observations on daily life combined with recollections of serious moments. Sometimes a silent moment would be followed by something unexpected. One Friday he spoke of the crossroads that lay between our respective houses. ‘One night we were driving down the road and I saw that signpost that we had passed every day for years, the one that says, Killough 2 Downpatrick 4, and I said, ‘I see Killough lost to Downpatrick again’.
We both laughed out loud at the silliness of the thought, an acknowledgment that it was the sort of thought we had both had. There have been many times when signposts have seemed like inscribed football scores; in the imagination it was possible to hear the voice of James Alexander Gordon from the BBC’s Sports Report reading aloud the distances as the journey progressed.
It was odd such an innocuous comment had prompted a burst of laughter; perhaps an acknowledgment of an awareness that there was an expectation on the part of some that Rector should speak only with seriousness and gravitas. It recalled a moment at sixth form college when a highly intellectual English teacher stood in front at a supermarket checkout; the cashier was someone he knew and there was banter and laughter between them about the trivia of the day. It had been a reassuring experience to see someone, who could articulate Shakespeare with passion and who could explore the depths of emotion in the work of William Blake, stand in a supermarket laughing about problems with his motor bike.
The near twenty years since Charlie noted the consistency of Downpatrick’s victories over Killough have taught that unless there is an ability to be like the English teacher, then the ability to speak of abstract concepts exists in a vacuum. There remains an assumption within the church that it is still possible to hand to people a set of propositions and expect that they will meekly accept whatever is passed to them. Much more than in the days of Charlie, being serious and assuming an air of gravitas is no longer sufficient; unless there is a willingness to engage at the level of the daft and the trivial and the innocuous, there will be no possibility of engaging at other levels.