Martin Browning castigates clerical anecdotes

And by the way, Vicar, my doctor has told me that I have only about a week to live.’ To which the reply comes, ‘Really? I remember someone that happened to when I was a curate; only 79, poor chap. But he took it like a man, like a proper Christian. Told his friends, made his will, sorted his letters, paid his bills.

‘He planned his own funeral – hymns, readings, even the undertaker. It was a Friday when he told me, and guess what? It was a week to the day when I got news that he’d gone. We gave him a good send-off and the family were marvellous. Dear old Albert; very sad of course, but he was a real saint and what’s more important, a gentleman. Well, take care; have a good week!’

You may or may not appreciate the black humour of this outrageous anti-clerical libel. The point I make is that I wish – oh I wish – that this was more of a caricature than it is. Or has the Lord chosen me to be acquainted with, even to work alongside, a disproportionate number of clergy (and, believe it or not, women parish staff as well) who respond to almost anything you tell them with an anecdote starting with the pronoun ‘I’ and just taking it from there?

And some of the worst offenders – for it is an offence and I am offended – are those who have signed up for or even led an impressive number of helpful courses on practical counselling, creative listening and supportive therapy training. What do they do on these courses? Is there any monitoring? Is there any follow-up, or trial period, or even a six-month guarantee of effectiveness?

Or is the art of listening something you either have or have not got, something which no amount of counselling hours or weeks of training can enhance or diminish? And if you have not got it, do we label you as a sufferer from some foreign-sounding illness or modern-sounding syndrome, or should we simply wonder how you got as far as the dog-collar?

Meanwhile I cherish the nerve of the mature curate who said to his vicar, ‘How are you? And keep your answer short.’

Martin Browning