Passive religion

As a pupil at a Catholic school, I knew my local priest and he knew me. Not intimately, we’ll save the paedo jokes for another time, but well enough insomuch that the priest would come to classes and know every child by name, and be able to talk about their families with them.

So when I stopped going to Sunday mass when I was in the early Juniors, it didn’t occur to me that I would be missed.

Mum and dad had divorced and I was living with mum. She wasn’t well and didn’t need the stress of anything extra on her shoulders. So I told her that I would go to church on my own. It was only a two minute walk away and I’d be safe getting to and from there, so she reluctantly agreed.

So I would wander down to the church, arrive five minutes late to avoid having to talk to the priest, mope about in the entrance to the church listening to my Walkman, then dodging off five minutes before the end of proceedings before anyone could grab me and start boring me with lessons of the Lord, or asking after my family.

Ok, so I wasn’t actively taking part in proceedings, but I was at church, so I wasn’t doing anything wrong in my mind.

A few weeks after I’d started this, I was walking to school, accompanied by my mum. As we passed the church, the priest was outside talking to one of his flock. I kept my head down, but as soon as he saw mum and I, he broke off his conversation and asked how we were.

Mum engaged in polite conversation before Father Christopher turned to me and asked: “So Dan, why haven’t I seen you in church recently?”

Mum’s eyes swiveled to me. After all, I’d told her - correctly - that I’d been to church. I’d stretched the truth and omitted the part about being passively involved with things, but mum was rightly confused.

Now I was in a quandary. I now knew that not taking part was a bit naughty. There’s no way that mum would believe I’d been if no-one had seen me, and Father Chris certainly wouldn’t. So how could I explain why he hadn’t seen me recently?

I smiled the best smile I could manage and gave the only explanation I could think of:

“You’re not looking hard enough, Father.”

For some reason, whether it was sheer luck or sheer cheek, it was accepted as a good enough answer to avoid being shouted at, and I learnt a valuable lesson: Make sure you wave at the priest in church so that he sees you.

St Stephens Church Welling, where many a child were forced to sit through church services.

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