Sunday, 19 August 2012

On Meeting a Clergy

If you got through my post yesterday on how to tell if you may be a clergy, and came to the conclusion that you are not, then you may be wondering, if you should encounter a clergy - what do you do with one? And how will you know that it is indeed a clergy that you have met?

Clergy Stereotypes

Once upon a time, there was nothing that could strike the heart with such fear as the words "It's the vicar". Indeed, the entire careers of some farceurs and some JB Priestley was based on these alien beings, suddenly appearing in working class or lower middle-class livings rooms. In these, and those successors such as Dad's Army and the ouvre of Derek Nimmo1, vicars were typically upper-class, slightly dim, well-meaning but ineffectual. Their ignorance of the more - ahem - physical side of life was typically a blessing in those days, as it prevented them realising that they were almost certainly closet homosexuals.

Nor did the modern, kitchen-sink. attitude to life prevent this kind of view of clergy. In Postman Pat, for example, the Reverend Timms actually appears to live in the church, and spends his time running downhill on bikes without brakes while saying "Saints Preserve Us".

Identifying your clergy

Some clergy are sneaky masters of disguise, so it is important that you identify them early. Basically, if there is a knock at the door at a time when you have a visiting tennis player - for completely innocent and explicable reasons - hidden in your wardrobe wearing no trousers, that will be a clergy. It is at this point that you are permitted to shout "Oh no! It's the vicar!"

If you meet them in the street, there is a good chance that they will be wearing a dog collar - a piece of white plastic. This is a bit like the "For hire" light in taxis, and indicates that they are available for work. If you ask a clergy nicely, they will often carry light shopping for you, or hold your baby or - more amusingly - someone else's baby. Off-duty clergies will take their dog collars off, and you will have to look for other cues. As Pastor in Valle suggested the other day, they will be wearing black socks (properly black socks, beside which all other "black" socks are merely dark blue). If they are wearing these blacker-than-black socks with sandals, you have your clergy.

In church it is normally pretty obvious. They will be the one at the front, introducing hymns or preaching. But **danger**. They could be a Local Preacher or Lay Reader or other such NCO. Check the neckline for a dog collar - not easy if they are wearing cassocks, chasubles or polo-necks. Or wait until they have defrocked at the end of the service. If it is in fact a Lay Preacher, check the graveyard for somebody laying in an unoccupied grave cunningly camouflaged and used as a mantrap, or accidentally boarded into the vestry from the outside. That will be the clergy, and the Lay Preacher has once again managed to get an unplanned preaching appointment.

In olden days, clergies would occasionally go around the parishes, catechising children and doing good works. Now that the typical clergy's patch has about 30,000 people in it, they seem to have decided not to bother. So if the clergy is indeed knocking at the door - you've probably invited them around, to have a child named or baptised, or because you are undergoing existential doubt. In this case you will have the advantage of knowing they are a clergy. But you may not know what gender they are. This next section will help.

Clergy Gender

In these equal-opportunity days, you will need to determine whether your clergy is a male or female clergy. This doesn't really matter when addressing them to their face - "Your Reverence" or "Your Holiness" will do perfectly well either way. But you might need to refer to them in the third person at some point, and then where would you be? And their habit of just calling themselves "Reverend" or "Reverend Doctor" makes it tricky to guess.

You might be thinking it's easy - surely female clergy wear skirts? But you have to be careful. If you meet them in church, many of them appear to be wearing frocks. And some female clergy wear trouser-suits. If their clerical shirt is in paisley, it's almost certainly a female clergy. If they're called "Jim" or they have classic male-pattern baldness or tell you about their prostate problem (unlikely, but we're living in an increasingly informal world) they're gonna be a bloke. If you can, invite them to bring their children with them - this should give you the clues you need, according to whether they call them "Mummy" or "Daddy". Thankfully, if you suspect your clergy is in fact a Roman Catholic, you can assume they're male. Thus you will avoid the embarrassment that sometimes ensues if you invite them to bring their children.

Entertaining a clergy

Now you have your clergy located and identified, how are you going to deal with them? Tea is normally suggested. If you live in certain Surrey villages, you might want to suggest wife-swapping, but you should really get to know them better before the conversation comes up - they may be celibate, and this would upset your arithmetic. (Also, they're generally not in favour, regardless).

Try not to swear. Clergy never swear, and are not used to swearing around them. You might want to try role-playing the following scenario with a friend or family member before inviting a local clergy round, just to ensure you have the correct social graces. Basically, if you can learn the appropriate lessons from this little sketch, you will be safe to invite clergy to your house.

Scene: A typical Surrey stock-broker's house. In the Lounge is Mrs Jones and her new local clergy, Reverend Hampson. Mrs Jones has not yet identified Reverend Hampson's gender. Hidden in the Kitchen, for entirely innocent and explicable reasons, is a tennis-player with no trousers.

Mrs J: Tea, vicar?

Revd H: Thanks, that would be lovely.

Mrs J: And how is life getting on at the Vicarage now you've moved in?

Revd H: Lovely thank you. We've been busy painting the study walls. I have so many books.

Mrs J: I'm sure you do. And none published since you were ordained?

Revd H: I can see you've met a clergy before, Mrs Jones!

Mrs J: Indeed. Drop of tea?

Revd H: No, I'm fine thank you.

Mrs J: Now, you must remind me. When I come to write your Christmas card - your - ahem - other half's got rather an exotic name... how do you spell it?2

Revd H: What, Sue?

Mrs J: Aha!  Sue! So you're a male clergy!

Revd H: I think not. We're in a civil partnership.

Mrs J: Oh, sorry. I should have guessed from the paisley clerical shirt.3

Revd H: No worries.

Mrs J: So do you share a bedroom, or do you resist temptation through the use of separate rooms?

Revd H: I beg your pardon?

Mrs J: Sorry. Sorry. I should have thought that bit. I mean - I shouldn't even have thought it. But I definitely shouldn't have said it. What was I thinking of?

Revd H: Maybe I will have a drop more tea.

Mrs J: OK. Oh ****4 I've spilt some tea on the carpet.

Revd H: Never mind.

Mrs J: Oh, ****5 - now I've said ****.

Revd H: Don't worry, we all say **** occasionally.

Mrs J: Yes, but not in front of a clergy. I can't ******** believe I said **** in front of the vicar. And now I've ********* said ******* as well. What a ***** state. I can't ****** believe it,. You'll have to ***** excuse me. [Rushes out of lounge into kitchen].

Trouserless Tennis Player: Has the clergy gone already?

Mrs J: No, she's still there.

Trouserless Tennis Player: How you getting on? Have you managed to avoid swearing?

Mrs J: Well, I said **** once, but I think I managed to get away with it....


1 Now sleeping, after a too-short life, just a few miles across the border in Easton Maudit, Northants

2 Clever - trying to derive the gender of the clergy from that of the clergy's partner - and without at any point making any assumptions (apart from the one, fatal one).

3 Missed the obvious clue as to the clergy's gender. The whole following mess could have been avoided, and Mrs Jones need never have worried about Revd Hampson's partner. NB the paisley thing is about gender. Nothing else. Make no other assumptions, or you'll really be in trouble.

4 This is what happens once we let a conversation with a clergy get out of hand. Mrs J should have stuck to safe subjects such as kittens or penal substitution.

5. **** and **** are different words. I've chosen to censor out all bad language in this sketch. Some of the readers of this website are clergy, and I wouldn't like to disturb or trouble them with this kind of thing.


  1. I've often wondered why male clergy wear frocks in church, now I know!!

    But, the comment about Paisley shirts for female clergy is misleading - because I've met Male Clergy (who are confused about their gender) wearing them, what was more difficult to overcome was the bottom hugging leather skirt he was wearing at the time, along with bicycle clips and a trilby?

    For a moment I thought that I was back in that Club in Hamburg, but realised that as I was at a diocesan conference, it was OK for the Bishop to be dressed that way, no one else was even phased by it all.

    1. UKViewer, do you every worry that your life is more surreal than mine - and I'm imaginary?

  2. Well, if they followed the procedures from my childhood, they'd simply call them all 'Reverend' (or possibly 'Reverend Lastname" and you don't need to know their gender. Unfortunately, now they all seem to go by their first names instead and some first names are used by all genders.

    I did once hear someone addressing a bishop who had dropped in as 'Your Grace' which surely hasn't been in common use around here since my grandmother's day. Certainly he (the bishop) seemed a little taken aback and hastened to assure the lady that such formality was not required.

  3. That was most informative.

    It would have avoided a friend, a lawyer who had drink taken, adressing the visiting vicar as My Lord in a fit of absent mindedness and then getting into a one sided drunken quarrel about why The Lord wasn't his Lord...

    If only he had observed the paisley shirt...


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