Here's today's installment:
Priest disguises himself as a tramp to teach his own churchgoers a lesson
When Reverend Rigby wanted to teach his congregation a lesson about being kind to others he came up with a rather colourful way of demonstrating his point. As the 70 churchgoers turned up for their regular Sunday morning service at the Methodist church in Prestatyn, north Wales they found a scruffy tramp sitting in the church porch. Stinking of beer and dressed in filthy clothes, the disgusted churchgoers did their best to ignore him as they filed past. This task was made even harder when the unwanted guest joined them on the pews, surrounded with syringes and drinking from a can of lager.
‘It was interesting to see the reaction from people - I was totally ignored. It showed that we don’t recognise God at work and in each other.’
He said: "In other places I was given as much as £4.50, a packet of biscuits and a blanket - but in Prestatyn I got nothing. ‘I told the congregation they are a stingy lot. Everyone was amazed and later complimented me on my acting skill, though some said I had made them feel terrible.’
Let's examine the moral implications of this stunt.
The priest is right to this extent: all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. However far we stray — and certainly there are people who stray a lot farther than the "tramp" — we are all connected with God and perfection, no matter how much we fall into the delusion of believing we are no more than human, or perhaps no more than animals, or machines.
Many good people come to misfortune, are down and out through no fault of their own or even through faults that should not earn them rejection by human society. If the congregation of Prestatyn consists of ordinarily decent people, I'm sure they recognize this.
But that isn't the lesson Reverend Rigby wants to convey. If the article is an accurate account, there seems no other conclusion to draw than that he wants his flock to accept the "tramp's" behavior. Namely, sitting on the porch steps, probably blocking the way in. Smelling like a brewery. And then, sitting in a pew, tossing back the booze, "surrounded with syringes."
Such a person is expressing contempt for the congregation as well as whatever spiritual presence the church represents. He is quite brazenly spitting in the eye of society, declaring by his actions that he is not bound by even the ordinary conventions of good manners. He is completely indifferent to propriety.
I doubt that all, or even most, of the churchgoers Reverend Rigby ministers to are rich. Some of them probably make sacrifices to be able to put a few bob on the collection plate. They may be no better or worse than the run of us people, but they have enough respect for themselves and each other to know how to behave in church.
So tell me why they should accept a lout in their midst and, in effect, reward him. In fact, the priest tells us they ignored him, which shows considerable forbearance. In another day and time, a couple of beefy men in the congregation would have persuaded the man who was defiling the service to take himself away, with whatever degree of persuasion was necessary.
Yes, people who have lost their minds, who have destroyed themselves or cannot help themselves do not lose all claim to empathy. In a different setting, in another way, most of the congregation would probably help someone taking the initiative (or at least cooperating) in trying to turn his life around. That, I think, is compatible with what God wants of us.
But to imply that we must tolerate and enable anti-social behavior in the name of compassion is not Christian, is not spiritual, is not virtuous if a society wants its self-destructive citizens and its unfortunates to be something greater than dole collectors. But today's Britain has no higher aspirations for them.