It could be a day misremembered. I can clearly remember moments I know did not take place. I can remember being in a car passing between the Blackrock and Frascati shopping centres in Co Dublin and hearing on the car radio that Chelsea had lost 4-0 in the FA Cup Final against Manchester United. It is a moment that could not have happened as I lived in Northern Ireland in 1994; I would not have known how to reach Blackrock; and, in all likelihood, the shopping centres hadn’t been built; nevertheless I can remember the score being read out as I watched the dual carriageway way traffic that lay ahead.
Perhaps the day was altogether different, but I remember waking on the morning of 28th June 1987 in the residential centre at Murlough in Co Down. Memory says there was dormitory accommodation, perhaps that’s why the unpleasantness was possible.
The night before the conservative evangelicals who comprised most of our number had been forthright condemnation of everything they perceived as “liberal” and “unChristian.” Particular venom was reserved for the books on the reading list for Northern Ireland GCE examinations. The book “Lamb” by Bernard MacLaverty attracted forthright condemnation from a non-stipendiary clergyman from north Belfast.
it reached the point where I couldn’t listen any longer and said that I had read “Lamb” and also had read “Cal” and that I thought MacLaverty was a fine writer who had dealt very sensitively with difficult subjects.
The self-appointed guardian of teenage readers, who was about to be ordained priest for a poor Protestant community, turned and snarled at me, “there’s no need to wallow in the filth.” Thirty-two years later, the words still linger.
The service of ordination to the priesthood took place that Sunday afternoon and from the early hours of Sunday I had been troubled by the vitriol of the response. Why was someone of such bitter feeling even considering being ordained? How could you engage in reconciliation work if you were so entrenched in your opinions?
Bernard MacLaverty’s work may have been better received if he had not been Roman Catholic. Hardline Protestants will always reject anything that does not accord with their extreme views. Had the objector listened to the addresses given during the Murlough retreat, he would have been challenged about persisting with his beliefs. The prospect that he influenced a community with his attitudes is an uneasy one.
By lunchtime, we all went our separate ways to prepare for ordination. I never saw the man again.
Perhaps I misremembered, perhaps 28th June was a joyful day.