Tuesday, April 30, 2024

park life


I am sitting in the park. An older couple—he will tell me that he is 75—approach me. He asks what I am doing sitting in the park, instead of the church? I respond that there are upwards of 15,000 souls living in my parish (let alone those who come here to work or study) and that I like to place myself where I might meet them. He asks which is my parish, and I respond by pointing to the church tower just visible through the trees. He tells me that he used to go there as a boy, he had a little book and was given a picture of a Bible character each week he went. But it is many years since he stopped going.

He tells me that our society is in a worse state than it was forty or fifty years ago. He puts it down to people no longer going to church—here is an irony there he doesn’t seem to notice—to the widespread rejection of Christianity—he doesn’t think you have to believe in the resurrection, or even that what(ever) you believe matters, so long as you are law-abiding; and, again, does not register the dissonance in his opinions—and to the obsession of minority groups with talking about issues, rather than quietly getting on with hidden lives.

There is both wisdom and folly in his words. He is not an idiot, or a dinosaur, a bitter old man to be dismissed by those who are younger and know better. Silence, for example, can hide a multitude of injustices; silence can also spare us from self-inflicted wounds. But he is—as we all are—a bundle of inconsistencies.

He carries pain and confusion, and needs to express these, safely; even as his wife, who presents with dementia, is becoming agitated by his stream of words. Both need the presence of a priest in the park today, even if they do not recognise the institution or the community of the Church. This is why I am sitting here.


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