Thursday, December 13, 2012


Some years back, not long after I was ordained, I was working my way through the parish doing some routine visiting . Next on the list was a family whose name I didn't recognise. I knocked on the door. I didn't recognise the face of the woman who answered either. 

'Oh, hello Reverend - how's the new curate? Hah! There's a surprise for you - you didn't think I'd know you! I saw you at that funeral a few months back ... Mrs Smith. She was a cousin of mine. Come on in.' 

Her husband was in also and we sat around the kitchen table chatting and drinking tea. They were friendly, open, & had only the slightest interest in religion.

'We don't get to church often,' the man said with a smile. 'But we do make an effort at Christmas. We always go Christmas day.'
'When we can,' his wife said. 
'Ah, sure the kids are nearly grown now,' he laughed. 'It isn't as important.'

I consoled myself on the drive home with the thought that at least they came then ... when they could! My lecturers had banged on quite a bit when I was training about what a great pastoral opportunity the occasional services such as baptisms, weddings, & funerals were along with the major festivals like Christmas and Easter. 'The sermon is so important at those,' we were told. 'It is your big chance to reach those people who are seldom otherwise in church.' 

I thought about those words of wisdom as I had a coffee with some clergy colleagues from a parish some distance from mine recently. During the shop-talk across the cups and scones the PP mentioned the big carol service they had every year with the local school (a denominational school, in theory at least, like most Irish schools).

'Nothing special,' he said, 'the usual things: hymns, a couple of short readings, a little address, some prayers ...'

His curate cleared his throat.

'Ah, Father, about that,' he said, keeping his eyes down. 'I had a call from the school. They're asking that we skip the homily this year. They don't want the service to be too 'wordy' they said.'

The PP looked like he was going to burst a blood vessel.

'No homily?' he spluttered. 'What are we even there for so? To say hello and goodbye? Are we just there as window-dressing?'
'I'm sure they didn't mean it like that, Father.'
'Didn't they? We're just some kind of seasonal tradition to them - religion hardly comes into it. They land in, wreck the place, the students have no idea how to act in church, the staff are nearly as bad, only the choir has any clue about the hymns they're are singing, and we're supposed to smile and stand there like a couple of shop-window dummies and say nothing ... literally say nothing!' 
'But at least they're there, in Church.'
'For now ... give it a couple of more years and they'll be saying the walk over to the church is too far & can we have it in the hall ... then, instead of Christmas carols it'll be 'Jingle-bells' and 'I'm dreaming of a white Christmas' and before you know it they'll be wanting to use 'Twas the night before Christmas' instead of the readings.'

We all laughed and the PP relaxed a bit and we carried on with our shop talk.

On the way home I thought about the PP's funny little rant ... and I thought about what they say about jokes: they're funny because they are true ... in which case, what the PP had to say wasn't really funny at all. We have work to do, people; we have a lot of work to do.

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