Praying for Dr Pritchard

Every morning at Morning Prayer in St Mary’s we pray for those whose “year’s mind falls at this time”. That means remembering in our prayers those who have died, on the anniversary of their death. Many of our churches in Scotland do this and we have a list of remembrances that leads to a couple of names being remembered most days. I’m not sure when our list started – sometime in the last 40 years or so, but it has been added to and whenever we know the day of the death of someone associated with the congregation we add them to the list.

Thus, this morning there were two commemorations.

And on this day, we remember Archbishop Robert Blackadder and Edward Pritchard.
May they rest in peace
And rise in glory!

Lord in your mercy
hear our prayer.

Neither of these souls are within the living memory of anyone at St Mary’s. Archbishop Robert was the first ever archbishop of Glasgow and is a relatively easy person to remember in our prayers. His time as Archbishop here seemed to be remembered more for diocesan re-organisation than anything else and because he managed to convince the Pope, no less, that Glasgow should not be administered from anywhere in the East. He died on pilgrimage, whilst trying to get to Jerusalem, just one of his many epic journeys.

But the other name whom we remember today was very much a member of the congregation and some would find him a bit more difficult to remember in prayer. Edward William Pritchard was a member of St Mary’s Episcopal Church – the precursor to what is now St Mary’s Cathedral. He would not have known the building we now worship in but he would surely have heard talk of it being built, as he died in 1865, just 6 years before it opened. He would have worshipped in what we now think of as Old St Mary’s – a church in town which no longer exists except in a street-name and a graveyard which is covered with a car park.

Edward Pritchard has the distinction of being the last person to be hanged in public in Glasgow. He was absolutely notorious in his day. A cleric from St Mary’s accompanied him to the gallows and he came to his end with some 10 000 people of the city (no doubt including some other members of the congregation) watching him die. He had murdered his wife and mother-in-law and probably at least one servant girl. He became famous for the tears that he cried over the coffin of the wife whom he had killed with arsenic and this led to him being known as the human crocodile.

The truth is, a more ghoulish tale you will not find. Nor a more gruesome public death.

It is worth thinking about what is going on when we pray for Dr Pritchard.

Firstly, should we remember him or should we banish him from our minds? It always seems to me important to remember him and to remember that the church is a bunch of sinners. Part of the scandal of Christianity is that some are merely more obvious sinners than others.

It strikes me today that I always notice and remember when we pray for Dr P but I’m not even sure whether his wife and mother-in-law and the poor servant girl are remembered in our calendar of remembrances. Praying for him today has reminded me to check and reminds me that we often focus on men rather than women and often focus our prayers more on perpetrators than victims.

This has been quite a week for trying to remember the victims of crime what with the investigations into the inadequate way the crimes of a Church of England bishop, Peter Ball were dealt with a couple of decades ago. I’ve watched with increasing incredulity the evidence which has been heard by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. The first (and so far only) response from anyone in the Church of England seems to be a reassurance in a statement from the Bishop of Oxford that George Carey will keep his status as a priest in good standing in that church – a statement which makes no mention of the victims of these events.

So, praying for Dr Pritchard reminds me to pray for his victims and the victims of other crimes and makes me think about how we can reorient our priorities to think about them more adequately.

Praying for him too this week brings to mind the recent statement from the government that they were not going to seek assurances from the USA that two prisoners will not face the death penalty if they are convicted of abominable crimes in the Middle East.

I was appalled by these crimes and believe that those who committed them need to face the law and need to be punished if convicted.

However, for me the death penalty will do nothing other than make them martyrs and ensure that their name will be revered longer than it ever should be remembered. There’s nothing like a state sponsored execution for making sure someone is remembered after all.

It is my view that the death penalty is wrong in all circumstances and that the government is utterly wrong to play fast and loose with principles which have been held by our governments (of different political hues) for decades.

Sending people abroad to be tried and possibly killed if found guilty is the outsourcing of our demons who go by the names Retribution and Revenge. As is the case with rendition flights that enabled torture which may have been made from the airport that I often use to go on holiday to the sun, outsourcing things that would be illegal here still leaves our hands dripping with blood and is the solution to nothing in the long term whilst making the barbarous seem more acceptable by its distance.

So you see, Dr Pritchard’s death reminds me to pray for the victims of crime and to pray against the death penalty, a penalty which has ensured that I remember Dr Pritchard’s name. And it reminds me that I am responsible for those who make decisions in my name and that I desperately want to assert that those who make such decisions do not do so in my name.

It also reminds me that the holy are not always the good and that the good are not always holy.

We pray for living members of the congregation every week too – and they are not uniformly good nor uniformly evil.

It is within  such paradoxes and inconsistencies that we live.

And pray.