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DRIFTERS, DESERTERS & CONVERTS

Meanwhile, in the lead up to the gala opening of a new-look St. Joseph’s, it was business as usual for the Team. A steady stream of irregularities, liturgical and otherwise, was matched by further fragmentation and a continuing downward spiral in Mass attendance, conservative estimates indicating a 30-40 per cent decline. Some brief observations should serve to illustrate the general state of the parish at this time.

One Parishioner best captured the prevailing atmo­sphere when he remarked:

I get the impression that saying Mass is not the pinnacle of their week. At times Fr. talked more about running in his triathlon than anything else. At Saturday night Mass on 13 January [1990] he sang Companions on the Journey all the way through the Canon. Even as he elevated the Host and lifted up the chalice he continued singing. He said no words of consecration at all! And they are totally unrecognizable as priests. When I’ve got my uniform on kids say, “Mummy, there’s a policeman” but they don’t even recognize the priests. Or the nuns for that matter.

The Team’s determination to avoid any semblance of priestly dress or identification was upsetting in itself but parishioner’s were particularly embarrassed in view of the local Anglican priests, who were splendidly recognizable as such and would have passed for Catholic clergy! As Marj Ride commented:

I have never in my life seen priests getting around like these priests. They are so casual. Not even a cross to indicate what they stand for. Father would say Mass in thongs. An Anglican friend of mine told me that one of them visited her in a pair of shorts, a T-shirt and sandals. She said, “I didn’t think that was the way for a priest to dress and visit me. Especially as I’m an Anglican. I wasn’t impressed at all.”

Neither was another plain-speaking parishioner of long­standing:

When you see them down the street they could have any­thing on. Tracksuit pants — anything. And the nuns are the same. I told Father that when I see the Church of England clergy in the street I recognize them and respect them. He just said “I’m no higher than anyone else.” But he is, or he’s supposed to be.

Father asked me if I prayed for priests and I said, “Yes I do — I pray that they will talk like priests, dress like priests and act like priests.” He didn’t respond.

The Team’s penchant for secular attire and Fathers fear of being seen as “higher” than someone else was perfectly consistent with the newchurch emphasis on priest as ‘presider’ in the Protestant sense — stripped of his sacred power and essen­tially indistinguishable from the congregation. But underlying this desire to transform the priesthood from a “sacral” role to a “social” role, in order to make it comprehensible to the modern mind, is a temptation to escape the unavoidable pressures and responsibilities of the priesthood.

 

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