It was one of THOSE evenings. The vicar was out of town, leaving the Reader and me with the pleasures of Evensong (and, in my case, a hideous sermon on Revelation....I don't propose to do that again in a hurry). As I sweated over this, I was a little surprised to be phoned mid- afternoon by our totally calm, wise and rather splendid retired ChurchWarden, who wanted advice.
'What, from me??? But it's always the other way round....'
It became clear that the problem was outside the usual remit for Church Wardens in Charlton Kings. Because we're your traditional leafy suburb we tend to be rather off the beaten track for most gentlemen of the road, but on this occasion one such had found his way into church, set off all the alarms and relieved himself in the north transept. Did I want the police called?
I ascertained that the guy wasn't aggressive, but simply roaring drunk, so was pretty confident that the police were unnecessary, and A. seemed happy to leave things be for the moment. When I arrived for the service, however, there were a number of rather perturbed people about. Our visitor was still with us, and seemed to be proposing to settle down for the night...What did I want to do?
`Ouch. What did I want to do?What would Jesus do? I guess he'd start by talking to him....'
so over I went...
"Are you a lady minister?"
"I certainly am"
"Well, I always respect ladies, so you tell me what you want me to do, and I'll do it"
"Well, it makes people a bit nervous if you walk about waving your arms and shouting. Do you think you could sit quietly for the service"
Actually, this was rather optimistic. Sitting was semi-possible, quiet clearly not, and as the service went on the angst level of the congregation increased discernibly....I rose to lead the intercessions, which happen from a prayer-desk half way down the nave. I had no idea by this stage what was going on at the back of the church, - just that a small posse of sidesmen seemed to be clustered together, and the noise level from our visitor was rather muffled. I began to worry that they had elected to turn him out, and felt unbelievably hypocritical as I prayed
"You, the God whose name is love, want us to be like you-
to love the loveless and the unlovely and the unloveable
to love without jealousy or design, fear or threat..."
When I moved into the pulpit, I was probably the only person in the church relieved to see he was still there, and was indeed sitting quietly..He called out what might have been
"Go lassie, I'm listening" so I set forth onto the choppy waters of my Revelation sermon. It seemed like the longest I'd ever preached...If only I'd had the courage to throw my text away, and just speak about the God whose name is love...
Exit...then to the back of the church to greet the congregation.
Someone asked if he needed a bed for the night.
He was scandalised.
"I've never slept under a roof since I took to the road, and I'm not about to start now. You bring me a cup of coffee and a bacon butty in the morning and I 'll be fine. I'm Hamish. Can I call you Kathryn? You seem like a lovely lady to me"
And with that he made a wild attempt to kiss my hand, and made off into the churchyard, where,he assured me, he'd located a nice quiet spot for the night.
Soothing the ruffled feathers of the congregation as best I could, I shepherded the more nervous through the churchyard and set off home myself. It's a clear, cold night tonight (I've just brought my geraniums in, for fear of frost) and I, who aspire to be minister of Christ, have left a drunken man sleeping rough outside my church.
The fact that he refused offers of shelter is small comfort. I know that those who offered to help were all, like me, rather hoping to have their offers refused. Did he know this too? Was he in fact the most courteous and considerate among us? What would Jesus do??
Urban Army would know an answer to these, I'm sure...if not to the question of how I can sleep in my warm bed tonight, knowing he is out there.
Right now, I just feel inadequate and very very sorry.