A quiet day?

I had expected a fairly quiet day today at church – it being the first of the weeks of the choir’s summer holiday. As it was, we had two seperate 999 (ie emergency-call) incidents before most of the people had arrived at church.

In the first, someone was found early in the day grasping a the church railings and in a clearly distressed state. On refusing help from an ambulance crew, the police then got involved. And after that, I’ve no idea what happened.

All this was just being explained to me when I arrived at about 9.30 only for a confused person who had been sleeping rough to appear in the church. There was violence and anger in his eyes and when startled he threatened me with his fists. It was one of those incidents in which I was unharmed physically but which shook me up a bit. I’d guess that being physically threatened at one time or another is part of the experience of most clergy though never acceptable behaviour.

This one was a clear case for a fast 999 call. Once again, the police were very helpful and once again, I don’t really know the end of the story.

This kind of thing always makes you think quite a lot about what you are about. St Mary’s aspires to be welcoming for everyone. It isn’t, of course. There are limits to that welcome and violent behaviour is way beyond our limit.

I worked in a college chaplaincy for a while which had the slogan, “Welcoming all who come in peace”. I think that is close to the kind of welcome that we can offer. Generally speaking, I think we can be a welcoming and inclusive church very easily amongst those who do not threaten others. (Some threats are not merely physical, either). Our welcome to those who threaten others is very certainly guarded and clearly partial. That is the way it is, though an uncomfortable truth.

It was then on into the Eucharist, though by this time, several of us at the front had been dealing with difficult things. Thus is was that we started to forget this and that and somewhere the priest’s host ended up on the floor before it was consecrated. It was substituted quietly and professionally by the servers who had also had to substitute a microphone which had been forgotten as nerves were jangled at the beginning.

I’d also forgotten to set the video camera, so I’m afraid you don’t get to hear John Riches’s sermon, which focussed, rather appropriately, on madness and exorcism and which lots of people wanted to talk about afterward.

So, it was one of those naught for your comfort kinds of mornings. Who said religion would be comfortable, eh?


  1. RosemaryHannah says

    Like most liberals, I have pondered this a lot of my life – and it is the usual complaint raised against us, isn’t it? We leave others free to do anything but be illiberal – i.e. disagree with us. The limits are those of good governance, though. The restraint of those who take the freedoms of others and only in so far as they take those freedoms.

    No, the really interesting thing is that it brings us face to face with our limitations. We do not, or we do not yet, have enough power and love to be able to restrain and to welcome, to engulf nasty situations from our own resources. It is a failure – and that is actually a good thing. I can’t remember Jesus in the parables criticising any of those who got things wrong – only those who got so paralysed with fear that they clung on to their own sense of righteousness and did not do anything – the bloke with one talent, the two ritually pure blokes in the Good Samaritan. &c. et al. He is really not interested in getting it right, only with being aware of the need to act, and humility before our fellows who also get it wrong, only in different ways.

    When the kids were young I realised the most important thing I could do for them was to get it very wrong some of the time – and let them get it righter. Taking the lower seat lets others risk messing up big time.

  2. fr dougal says

    A rough morning: being threatened in clerical dress is a nasty experience and I thoroughly sympathise It’s happen as few times to me. Go and find a good friend and get them to give you a cuddle. Beats any amount of psychotherapy!

  3. You sound pretty shaken up – certainly a traumatic morning.

    I have dealt with situations of being threatened with violence at my work so I know how it takes the wind out of your sails.

    My philosophy about these things is that in the vast majority of circumstances, if we approach them with the right attitude, potentially difficult situations can be diffused. However, there are going to be those you can’t do anything about and we need to accept that a) this is the case and b) it’s not our fault.

    I think you and I (and lots of others in our respective lines of work put up with much more challenging behaviour than would be allowed in other environments. It’s necessary, but we can’t cope with everything.

    Do you have personal safety information for the church – I hate to use the word policy cos it sounds so rubbish, but you know what I mean. We do for our office and i think they get the balance between openness and security about as good as we can get it.

  4. David |Dah • veed| says

    We had a very tranquil service. Today is midterm elections. So, since the wee hours of yesterday morning there have been no sales of alcohol and all bars and cantinas closed.

  5. gaielle says

    As one of The Oblivious who arrived too late to be of assistance, and unknowing of what had happened did not then offer support, I now offer congratulations for A Day Well Done – you evidently arose to the needs of all occasions and – thankfully – survived to tell the tale. Hope Tilly supplied the cuddle.

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