I had a letter forwarded to me from Dublin this week, from someone who obviously thinks I’m still the rector of Mount Argus, even though I left Mount Argus seven years ago. Without going into any great detail, the writer had attended a Funeral Mass in another church, which was celebrated by one of the Passionist Community from Mount Argus, at which he was also joined by a Church of Ireland minister. The writer felt that the Church of Ireland minister had been permitted far too much participation in the Mass, and wanted me, as rector, to speak to the priest about it, and admonish him. Not having been there, and only having one side of the story, I wouldn’t want to comment one way or another, but it was ironic that this letter should arrive on my desk on the first day of the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity.
It took me back over 20 years, to when I was parish priest in Prestonpans. I had a good relationship, as had my predecessors, with the local Church of Scotland ministers, both in Prestonpans and in Wallyford, where there was a small out-church called the Oratory. One year, on the Sunday during the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity, the Prestonpans minister and myself decided to do a pulpit exchange. He would preach at the 9am Mass at St. Gabriel’s, and I would preach at the 11am Service at Prestongrange Church of Scotland, one of the first kirks to be built in Scotland after the Scottish Reformation in the 16th century. It was located, appropriately enough, on Kirk Street. There was a lot of good will on both sides, and a genuine welcome and support from both communities – well, almost. When I got up to proclaim the Word of God and to preach in the kirk, two big, burly men, got out of their pews, approached the pulpit, eyeballed me for about 30 seconds, and then walked out. There was a frisson of tension for a short while, but then the minister told me just to continue, which I did, and all went well from then on. It was only afterwards, it struck me, that I had just been protested against. The kirk minister and the congregation were very apologetic, and, while we were enjoying some nice tea and buns afterwards, they informed me that neither of these men would ever be seen in the kirk from one year to the next, and that they had come along that day, quite specifically, to make their protest.
The minister in Wallyford was a great character. She and her husband lived in a house right next to the Oratory. After the Vigil Mass on a Saturday night, I would occasionally call in for a cup of tea and a chat. We would have a joint Carol Service every Christmas and try to get involved together in the small local community. Each year, during the Wallyford Community Week, it would fall to us, along with some local dignitary, to judge a competition whereby many of the houses decorated their gardens according to some theme or another. Amazing work went into the decoration of these houses, but there had to be a first, second and third, and we knew that there might be people not too pleased with our decision. It was worse for her, she always, half-jokingly said, as she actually lived in Wallyford, and would be bumping into the unsuccessful entrants in the shops and on the streets during the following week, exposing herself to a barrage of complaints, and I could understand that, as I lived in the relative safety of Prestonpans. On another occasion we joined a street protest together with local families who were lobbying for a traffic calming system through the village, as drivers coming off the slip road from the nearby motorway, to pass through the village, rarely slowed down very much, and there had been many near accidents. We didn’t glue or chain ourselves to anything, but the protest was successful and the calming system was installed. Happy days!
Talking of traffic, out at Bishopbriggs we are all fine, and we are delighted that, for the present anyway, the bus lane system that, for the last number of months, was causing so much chaos, frustration time consumption, and road rage, on the journey into the church, has been abandoned, and I suppose that’s another kind of traffic calming. Halleluia!
As ever, protect yourself, your loved ones and others, and protect Christ in your lives.