Every day at morning prayer in St Mary’s we remember those whose year’s mind falls on that day. This means remembering by name in our prayers those from the congregation whom we know to have died on that day. Now, our year’s mind list goes back a few decades and we’ve added one or two prominent people from the past to it.
One of them came up today – Edward Pritchard.
It is a name that one could pray through and not pay any attention to but I think of him each year on this day when the anniversary of his death comes around. He was hanged on 28 July 1865 before a large crowd of people, tens of thousands, some said, on Glasgow Green. He was the last person to be hanged in public in this city. He had been convicted of murder, having killed his mother-in-law, his wife and possibly a maid in his household. As a trusted doctor he had been able to get hold of Antimony relatively easily. As a genteel murderer, his case was particularly shocking to people.
He was also a member of this congregation and he died with a curate from St Mary’s in attendance at the scaffold.
Religious people are pretty good at remembering those who have done something courageous. Saints are a real part of our continued worship, but what do we do with sinners?
It seems to me appropriate every year to remember Dr Pritchard. He seems to have been a rather nasty piece of work but I have this giddy belief unsubstantiated by anything other than Christian hope that nasty pieces of work are children of God just as much as those who live lives that are pure and holy. (And I’m not really stupid enough to think that people fall into only one category, either).
When I remember Dr Pritchard, I remember that God most loves those who need love most. As I pray, I remember those who are on death row today and I know with every greater certainty that I’m opposed to the death penalty. And I remember the mercy and love of God which is as real and true for the Dr Pritchards of the world as it is for anyone else.
So, recognising that it is as perplexing and puzzling to work out how to pray for Dr Pritchard as it is to pray for anyone else, I add to the corporate prayer of the church my own intentions, hopes and struggle.
For Dr Edward William Pritchard whose year’s mind falls today.
May he rest in peace. And rise in glory.