The more their congregations shrink, the more turbulent the lives the clergy of the Established Church, or so it seems.
Recently, we had the so-called "spitting vicar" who was forced todeny intimidating his parishioners. Now we hear the boot is more oftenon the other foot and that parishioners are "bullying" and attackingpriests. According to the trade union, Unite, vicars routinelyexperience abuse from the laity. It seems a long away from the world ofEF Benson novels in which the only torture the vicar experiences is thetedium of an overlong afternoon fete. But then, that world – if itexisted – has vanished – along with the mythical Anglican "spinsters"whom John Major fondly imagined cycling through the mist to matins.
Orhave those same spinsters not vanished at all but simply become moreaggressive in keeping with the spirit of the times, and instead ofmeekly murmuring thanks for an unsatisfactory service, march up theincumbent and give him a bloody nose?
It may be useful to notethat our churches were once regularly the scenes of brawls andfisticuffs, especially over points of ritual.
In one East Endchurch in the 1860s, parishioners infuriated by their High Churchvicar, Bryan King, "took possession of the choir stalls and interruptedthe singing with hisses and shouts, until in the middle of the servicethe clergyman fell down in a fit and was carried apparently lifelessout of the church amidst laughter, shouts, and execrations".
Theculture of decorum in church, in other words, is fairly recent – thoughthis may come as cold comfort for clerical victims of angry ordisappointed lay people.