I had been visiting friends a long way from home, and took a train from Western Ontario back towards Montreal and my plane which I almost missed, but that’s another story.
A conference was finishing in one of the towns we passed through, a conference for church ministers. Two, an older man and one as fresh-faced as I was at the time, came and sat behind me. They would be crossing the border back to the US, changing half an hour later to get their plane or connecting train, so I did not hear the whole of their conversation.
I wished, and still wish I hadn’t heard any of it at all, but occasionally it comes back to haunt me. My apologies to any reader who thinks I ought to have kept it to myself.
I can well understand that the ministers would not be talking Scripture or Theology or Hospital Visiting at the end of the conference, unless there had been a truly inspirational speaker! Sport, family, holidays, gardening, I could understand. But what I could not help overhearing would have put me off if I had been one of their flock or someone inching towards faith.
The older man was congratulating his colleague on his appointment to a church that he knew, but rather than advising him about the congregation, the town and their strengths and needs, it was a monologue on clerical ambition and how to fulfil it. ‘In five years’ time you should be looking to be in a much larger, more prosperous church’, the younger man was told. Making a name for himself in the local newspaper (this was 40 years ago), driving newer, larger cars, the message seemed to be that the prosperity gospel was to be lived by example.
I could not believe my ears; this man clearly felt he was safe on the train, nobody could hear him. Did he believe that Jesus preferred his gospel to that of Saint Francis, or a poor Baptist preacher, supporting a church in a run down suburb or rural settlement? Was he idealistic as a young man? Where did his zeal go?
Lord, send us priests and holy priests!