Philly Beer Week 2011. I was attending the Extreme Homebrew Challenge (a great event put together by friends, George and Nancy Hummel of Home Sweet Homebrew). I was having a great time tasting terrific homebrews, meeting up with great beer folk like Sam Caligione of Dogfish Head and Matt Guyer of the Beeryard, and working the crowd. As I often do for Beer Week events I was wearing a clergy shirt which helps to make connections and elicits some interesting conversation. I was milling about when suddenly I felt a hand on my butt. I turned and saw a tall and solidly built man standing behind me. Although the contact had certainly felt intentional I was willing to let it go and chalk it up to the packed house and tight quarters.
A little while later I had just tried what turned out to be the winning entry (an Imperial Stout named Death Metal) and was turning to walk up to the podium to chat when again I felt a hand on my ass. I turned to see the same man there. This time he not only met my eyes, he also spoke. “That’s what you do to little boys.” he said with a piercing glare.
I was so shocked that I simply could not respond. In hindsight, I wish I had challenged him. I wish that I had collected my thoughts enough to ask him, not only what the hell he thought he was doing, but also to ask him why he felt he needed to do it to me. The easiest response might have been to inform him that I was not Roman Catholic (as I can only surmise he had assumed), but after further reflection, I am glad I did not take this tact. It only would have deflected from the real issue, which had nothing to do with me being a priest, but rather had everything to do with him.
In hindsight, I am struck by the realization of by just how angry and perhaps hurt he must have been in order to do that. After all, even though I was a clergy person and thus assumedly non-violent, his actions still invited a punch in the nose. Perhaps that’s actually what he wanted- the chance to give free reign to his anger and to try and pummel a priest.
Whatever the case, I will not soon forget this incident. To this day it serves as a valuable reminder that a clergy shirt is sometimes not just an invitation to curiosity but also to anger.