The worst clergyman we ever had
It is twenty years ago, the first Sunday in October, that three members of a church in Dublin travelled to Northern Ireland to attend the church where I was the clergyman, to talk to me about moving to their parish. Only two and a half years in the large Ulster parish where I was rector, there was a sense of already needing to move on.
My gentle English liberalism grated with those whose views were conservative and unionist. My ecumenism was repugnant to those who regarded Roman Catholicism as an erroneous religion. My attempts to engage with the alienated and the paramilitaries only annoyed the middle class conservatives of the parish. My dislike of Protestant evangelicalism won no friends in a community where to speak of evolution was to question all that they held dear. Being told that I was “the worst clergyman we ever had” might have hurt at the time, but, from the perspective of two decades later, was objectively and subjectively true.
Objectively, other clergy who served in the parish went on to high office, one becoming an archbishop. I finished my clerical career in a parish which was kind enough to take me after the place to which it was intended I would move decided that I was not of the calibre they desired. I shall always be grateful to those who welcomed me when I was left with no place to go.
Subjectively, I was the worst clergyman they ever had because I could never accept that the church’s first loyalty was to itself. The line in the Creed about believing in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church was always said with fingers crossed. The church was not one, it did not seem holy, and it didn’t seem to resemble the church of the time of the apostles. However, criticising the church from within was unwelcome. Loyalty and solidarity with the institution was valued highly, sometimes it seemed to come at the cost of the truth. In the ensuing years, there were encounters with the church turning a blind eye to abusers, to routine cases of spurious tax claims and outright evasion, even to a case of credit card theft and fraud. (Lest anyone imagine such things are not possible, the case of Bishop Peter Ball in England showed that concealment took place at the highest levels).
Twenty years on, to have been assessed by a woman, who was one hundred and five years old at the time, as “the worst clergyman we ever had” seems a worthwhile achievement.
Well, there ya go ! :-). You have the Epitaph !!!.
Well I like you. I think as a human, a Christian, a person who delivered trenchant comment with kindness here, while being clear in the message of faith you were doing a Ministry. Indeed I’d go so far as to suggest that last parish of yours was far far more gigantic than you might realise.
Who cares about the blue-rinse brigade (Irish Chapter). I expect the sheer number of good people they’ve driven out is legion. But that’s the thing here in Ireland. The general population is only slightly more than in 1901. Something to my mind displays incompetence that hard to surmount on the part of a series of organs intrinsic to the makeup of the island, north and south.
Still, I’d say the current Archbishop of Canterbury is a man of your stamp.
I think the church will suddenly reach the point where it realises that it has existed for itself for so long that it has no-one left.
I was at the birthday party of the 105 year old, the local MP asked her if she had ever been married. “Do I look stupid?” she replied!