The things people say – snapshots from a parish priest

Published 29 August 2017  |  

I'm quite new at this being a priest lark. I have to say that I love it and it's the most demanding thing I've ever done. Any thought that it might be all Vicar of Dibley were soon knocked out of me.

New in post at a previous church, I preached my little heart out. At the end of the service my church warden came up to me and asked:

'Steve do you actually take time over your sermon and write it down?'

'I sure do,' I answered.

'Could I have a copy?' asked my warden.

I must say I felt a little flurry of pride. Perhaps it was so good that my warden wanted to keep it for posterity. I had always secretly prided myself on my preaching.

'Sure John, do you want to re-read it? That's really encouraging. We can discuss it during the week if you want.'

'No Steve,' he said. 'I fell asleep as you started speaking and only woke up when you said Amen. I wanted to catch up with what you said in case there was anything worth hearing.'

Mmm. And that's just one the many things people have said over the years. I wonder why people say such things to their parish priests. What gets into them? Sometimes I wonder if it's people getting tongue-tied or intimidated by the collar. Perhaps it is the one occasion where the sheep can have a bite at the shepherd.

But then a friend of mine who is a nearby priest told me recently that a parishioner came up to him after a service, shook his hand and said, 'I find you faintly ridiculous!'

It was the faintly that was the killer. Ridiculous you can live with, but being faintly ridiculous is unbearable. But it isn't only the priests that get it in the ear. Anyone who lifts their head above the parapet is fair game it seems.

My wife once preached at a church. It was a good sermon. Afterwards a person came up to here and said: 'Well done Christine that was really good sermon....did your husband write it for you?' These days when she preaches she starts with telling people that if they don't like the sermon I wrote it for her and if they do, she wrote it all on her own.

The key it seems is to take ourselves a lot less seriously and hope that this helps us to take God a bit more seriously. My goodness, as a priest, it is so easy to become prideful and lacking in humour. But humility is a Godly virtue and shouldn't it be modelled by us lot up front?

I have come to look forward to some of the outrageous things people say. Indeed I'm looking forward to the next one. Here's one from a few weeks ago.

Christine preached again. At the end a person came up, smiled at her and said:

'I am amazed! That was so good. I thought you had no discernible personality at all.'

As I was shaking hands with people on the way out a parishioner came up to me and said.

'Boy your wife is a good preacher. You should learn from her. She actually knows the Bible.'

If it were tennis match that would make it 15-all.

Steve Morris is the parish priest of St Cuthbert's north Wembley.


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