Ok, so this one is not about me but comes from a fellow priest now retired. Back in the early 90’s, he was serving in a small church in Scotland. Now one day Steve was in the pub and the television was reporting on the First Gulf War. Now sitting down the bar was Hamish. As the story continued, Hamish began to mutter and the “Damn Americans.” As the minutes passed, Hamish got louder and turned to direct his comments at Steve. “Yank! Hey Yank!” Finally Steve, who had a son in the military, could ignore this baiting no longer, stood up and said, “You got something to say to me Hamish?” When Hamish stood, he towered over Steve (who stands only about 5’7”) and said, “Let’s settle this outside.”
Now even though Steve was grossly over-matched he did not back down and turned to go. At that moment, Tom the barman interrupted, “Sit down Hamish.” Hamish ignored him and continued to follow Steve towards the pub door. This prompted Tom to shout, “Hamish, if you touch him you’re banned for life.” Now for a Scotsman, being banned from your pub is indeed a very serious threat and Hamish backed down rather quickly.
A very relieved Steve turned to the barman and said, “Thanks a million. If there’s ever anything I can do, you just let me know.” “Do you mean that?” asked Tom. “Of course I mean it,” replied Steve. “Then would you baptize my granddaughter?” asked an embarrassed Tom. “Of course I would,” said Steve. Tom paused for a moment then explained, “Well, you see Reverend, her mother’s not married.” Without missing a beat Steve smiled and asked, “When would you like it to be done?”
What you need to understand is that while unwed mothers are commonplace for us, back then in small town Scotland, there was still an element of scandal to it and certainly enough shame to make the whole idea of baptism very awkward. But Steve was more than happy to oblige.
When the day of the baptism finally arrived Steve walked into the church to see a remarkable sight- the church, which usually all but empty, was instead practically full. The pews were packed with all the friends and customers of Tom the barman. And they certainly did not look like your typical churchgoers. Many were clad in black leather and sported tattoos, and the vast majority of them had not darkened the doors of a church in decades. Yet there they were. Even more remarkably, for the remainder of Steve’s time in Scotland many of these folks continued to come to church.
Then Steve had to go back to the States. After he left, these men and women stopped coming. It seems that Steve was replaced by a local priest with traditional sensibilities who made some off hand remarks about how Steve’s agreeing to baptize Tom’s granddaughter was “inappropriate” and that such a thing would never happen “on his watch.” It didn’t take long for the bar patrons to take the hint.
This story only goes to show the truth of something I became convinced of along time ago… that many of the people who long for the grace and love that the Church ought to be offering will never come through its doors. If only we, the people who truly make up the Church, would wake up and recognize the opportunity that lies before us and be willing to open our doors to invite all those outside to come in, without condition or judgment. The more the Church does to alienate and exclude the less it embodies the example of its founder.