Children’s books stick in the memory, perhaps because they have to be read and re-read. One of the favourites in the house in the early-90s was Elmer the Elephant, the tale of the patchwork coloured elephant who paint himself grey to resemble all the other elephants. His ploy fails when the paint is was away by the rain and his colours are revealed. The other elephants celebrate Elmer’s difference by painting themselves with multi-coloured paints.
Feeling like Elmer is not a comfortable experience.
Monday is traditionally the clerical day off. When the children were young, Saturdays were taken instead, but with both away at university, Monday is the preferred day. Being summoned to a meeting on a Monday is not something to be welcomed, it meant dressing tidily on a day when it should have been a baggy jumper and old trousers. It being Monday, though, clericals were spurned in favour of a pale blue shirt, a pale yellow tie, fawn trousers and a brown tweed jacket. Looking in the mirror, the outfit looked presentable, an acceptable compromise.
Arriving at the meeting there was a momentary sense of that moment in ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ when she arrives at the smart, formal party dressed as a bunny girl. There were two dozen people in blacks and greys, as uniform as Elmer’s herd of elephants. There not being a paint of grey paint to hand, there was not the option of blending in, any more than Ms Jones might have discreetly slipped into the company of the partygoers.
The difference between the story of Elmer and the real world is that diversity is rarely something welcomed and, as for the idea that the church might welcome diversity, one had only to look at the dress of those assembled for the meeting. There was no pastoral need served in dressing in clerical shirts and collars; it was not a hospital or a doorstep environment where being instantly recognizable was something desirable, so why dress in uniform dullness?
Is there some psychological factor at work in wearing uniform when none is necessary? It’s hard to imagine Gardai wearing uniform on their day off. Perhaps it’s about solidarity, about collective identity. Perhaps turning up in a collar and tie was a failure to observe the unwritten rules of the club, a breach of the common bond.
As an organisation that, following the example of its founder, claims to welcome diversity, the church simply fails. Elmer would never feel at home as the Reverend Elmer, the church is simply too grey to accommodate him.