Then he went back into the vestry, and took off his cassock and surplice, in preparation for his walk. His Saturday evenings nearly always ended like this. He came as the physician of souls, but was forced instead to minister to bodies. He came as the Lords ambassador, but was required to act as an English magistrate. Only a few desired the spiritual gifts he offered; all that most of his people wanted was his help in the little pettifogging of their day – their little ambitions, their little needs, their little controversies. Thus it had always been, and for a long time now he had recognised it and accepted it.
As he tried before the dim looking-glass to make himself presentable for his visit to high places, his mind went back to the day early in his ministry when he had first learned this lesson. He himself a young, eager, newly ordained priest, leaning over the bed where a miner’s wife lay dying in the Durham pit village of his first curacy. He heard her faint voice murmuring –
“I want – I want..”
He had been so sure what she wanted, so proud that he could give it to her, this poor soul, setting out on her lonely journey. He had stooped close to her panting mouth.
“What is it? What can I do for you?” And he remembered how he had pictured himself hurrying back to the big dark church to fetch her the Sacrament, and then sending her forth with words of comfort and committal, so that she left a glory behind her.
“I want – I want … some tapioca pudding”.
That incident seemed now to typify the course of his ministry. And just as then he had not dared despise her poor request, but had immediately set about getting her what she wanted, fetching it himself from a neighbours kitchen so now he would not fail these souls, who, when he offered them the Bread of Life, asked for tapioca pudding instead. It was better than giving them nothing. He ought to be thankful that there was at least some way in which he could be their minister.