The Flock That Christendom Forgot: An Animal Padre’s Uphill Pilgrimage
Soon I was writing my 'God Slot' for the Grampian daily newspaper,
and referring to my recent moving experience having knelt at the grave
of Grey Friars Bobby. Thankfully, the first one to comment the article
to others as well as to thank me for it was the dear Bishop's wife.
She was proud to be a dog owner herself and felt that I had touched
on a side of Christian care and responsibility which had sadly been
neglected within church instruction. Spurred on and blest by this
response, I now felt I must start in Aberdeen what I had done in my
last incumbency in Huddersfield: hold an annual animal blessing
Nothing but approval came from the members of the delightful church
of St. Clement's Mastrick, where I was honoured to be their priest.
Nevertheless, holding 'a service of animal blessing' was something
completely new to Aberdeen and the occasion resulted in full media
coverage from both TV channels, the local newspapers and a Scottish
national as well.
Now Called the Animal Padre
Before long - on my hospital rounds - I was not only being
addressed as padre by high ranking, retired military personnel (of
which the Scottish Episcopal church appears to have an
overabundance!) but certain ward staff were now jovially referring to
me as a padre to God's animal creation, and the term, 'animal padre'
seems to have stuck ever since!
The Bishop commented more than once that 'I would go a long way’ in
his diocese and that 'I should know this.' I'm fully sure that he
wanted me to ascend the hierarchic ladder, assuring me in the meantime
that responsibility always went with promotion. Before long - and
separate from hospitals and parish tasks - it was asked that I
represent the Diocese on the Grampian Education Committee, a post to
be held for four years. And there, alongside a delightful Catholic
priest, and myself, was an older member, a certain Reverend Doctor who
represented the Kirk. One who sadly told me, most forcefully, that
whenever I addressed the meeting I was nothing but a clerical
embarrassment for him! One such occasion had involved increasing milk
consumption in schools. So I pushed for an equal increase in pure
fruit juice. Such criticisms from a fellow cleric - whom I assumed
held a doctorate in theology or divinity -quite shattered my
confidence. Consequently, for a while I became absolutely mute.
Down but not Defeated
Fortunately, several councilors on a future occasion commended my
comments most forcefully; while the Conservative representative
affirmed he had never heard such sound common sense spoken from the
floor of the council chamber in years. Such encouragement came as if
on angels' wings! So why had this other cleric on the Education
Committee taken such a hostile attitude towards me? I really wanted
his friendship! I learned about two years on, that this clerical
opponent had previously been a research scientist involved with
animals. His doctorate was nothing to do with theology at all. It had
Work was daily becoming more demanding.
The Bishop suggested that I might like to help the Diocese further
by becoming an external tutor for St. John's Theological College,
Nottingham. Yet the horrors of animal cruelty were constantly
uppermost in one's mind. Shall I stir up trouble as I had by
protesting previously in Dewsbury and Bradford? Surely I would be far
from wise, at this stage, to stir up another hornet's nest! Entering
St Clement's Church - which was half way between the Royal Infirmary
and Woodend General Hospital - I knelt before the altar. "Dear God,
what do You want me to do?" I asked, and the answer came clearly and
to be continued...
Go on to
Remembrance Sunday Morning Service
2013 At The Animals War Memorial: Near Hyde Park, Brookes Gate, Off Park
Return to Winter 2013 Table of Contents