So, multi-millionaire comedian Rowan Atkinson has described Anglican clergy as mostly smug, arrogant and conceited… well of course they’re not, but perhaps more interesting than his opinion is the fact that a) he’s bothered to voice it… b) he says it wasn’t always so and c) it’s recently changed perhaps?
What happened to him recently that’s made him feel so cross towards the clergy of the Church of England? Doubtful if it’s at his own local church, where he has apparently never been seen, in fact, since he does not appear religious, it might be that the apparent hurt is on someone else’s behalf?
Perhaps an elderly relative, or a young niece… greeted or treated with less than warmth by their own local vicar … now THAT I can believe… a friend of mine who’s not a churchgoer once booked a half day off work to wait for a visit from their local Anglican priest, because they wanted to get their new baby baptised… the vicar didn’t show up, and when the friend called, the vicar brusqely dismissed their complaint, saying he must have forgotten to write it down.
What was a moment’s thoughtlessness, carelessness on the part of one vicar, was half a day off work, a freshly ironed shirt to ‘look smart’, a lot of nerves and a precious baby boy, to my friend… all swept away in a dismissive comment.
Another friend, who had been brought up as a Catholic child; after a gradual reawakening of her childhood faith, longed to get married in church, but was harangued by a judgemental elderly Catholic priest in her local church, in such a way that she nearly cried at work the next day and asked me (as a practicing Christian) why she and her fiance weren’t welcome and if they really were allowed to marry in a church!… In the end she got married to her fiance abroad… in a Catholic chapel by a beach, rather than face the scary old priest again.
So whilst I doubt that any wily priest has ever been anything other than cautiously charming and courteous to the famous Mr Atkinson… I think it quite possible that some Anglican priest has lately committed the regrettable and yet almost inevitable trespass, of not entertaining angels but being inhospitable, through negligence, weakness or intentional fault.
In Psalm 19, there is a cautionary couplet that always rings frighteningly true with me, about those trespasses, false trampling steps and blundering toe-crushers with which we damage neighbours all too easily…
‘Who can discern his errors? Cleanse me from my secret faults. Above all keep your servant from presumptuous sins, let them not have dominion over me.’ Psalm 19:12-13
I think when I’m ordained -God-willing- I’m going to have to write that in large letters above the desk where I answer emails and telephone calls as a constant reminder.