The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
Hi, Evelyn,” I said, knocking on the door as I opened it to enter.
“Hi, Father. Have a cup of tea?” Evelyn rose, smiling, from the kitchen table where she had been nursing a cup of tea of her own. She automatically moved toward the stove, “It’s still fresh. I just made it at lunch time.” A Pyrex tea pot was simmering on a front burner.
“Sure, that’d be great,” I replied, pulling a chair up to the table and added, “Just a half cup would be fine, Evelyn.”
“Bottom half or top half?” Eddie quipped as she steadied a mug with her left hand, the tea pot held in her other.
“Top half,” I said, with a glancing look first at him, and then back to the stove – and the three of us laughed at our ritual banter. I sat down. A mug of steaming tea was set before me. We exchanged smiles and Evelyn sat down.
“Father,” she began, “Pastor Peter was by this morning to visit Eddie and me. I think he’s still upset that I left his church.”
“What happened to make you say that?” I replied, lifting the cup to my mouth. I blew on the tea to cool it, and began to sip.
“Something he said, Father.” Evelyn went on. She looked first at Eddie and then back at me, adding after an awkward pause, “He said that you are a priest but that he is a pastor.”
“Yes,” I replied. “And did he say anything else?”
“Well, he then said that everybody knows that pastors are closer to Jesus than priests.” She paused and there was a long silence as I took another sip of my tea. She shook her head. Lifting her cup up half way to her mouth, she then put it back on the table, and looking directly at me, went on, “But that’s not true, is it?”
“No, Evelyn, you’re right. That’s not true.”
“Then why would he say such a thing, Father?”
I looked at her across the table, holding my mug of tea with both hands. Her eyes reflected confidence at the truth. Confusion was reflected as well, at the lie.
“Why, Father? Why would he say such a thing?”
“Evelyn,” I began, “I’m not sure. The only thing I can imagine is that some people need to feel that they are closer to Jesus than other people. As for me, I’m happy just to be in the room, Evelyn.”
“Ah-h-h,” she acknowledged, with an understanding nod. We sat for a moment, silent, and then as she began to get up, asked, “Like some more tea? How’s your tea? Like some more Eddie?”
I am mindful of an earlier time when I was much younger. I recall a time when I too was less confident and more certain. I remember when I wanted to be closer to Jesus, needed to be closer! I remember the day when, in my brash youthfulness, I made the announcement to my family.
My parents and I had just returned home from church. It was winter and we had coats to hang in the downstairs hallway. Boots had been left by the door in the porch. Snow had been swept away and unbuttoning our coats, we wedged ourselves at the foot of the stairs. Coats would be hung to dry near the hall radiator. As I strained up to anchor my coat hanger on a hook, I decided to say it! I would announce to my Mum and Dad the decision I had made that very day on my way home from the Service. After all, I had paid close attention to the prayers and the readings. And I approved of the fine sermon our priest had delivered. Yes, I was certain! I turned to make my announcement.
“I’ve decided I’m an Anglican,” I said. I beamed! “I’ve thought it over, and I’ve decided I’m glad to know that I have made the right decision.”
My parents paused, looking at me. Neither of them seemed to have heard what it was that I had announced. But they must have heard me! Yet neither of them responded to my news with anything like the joy and triumphalism I had expected that they should. My announcement had fallen flat. What now? What was I to say? My brittle certitude broken, I stood there speechless. And like Alice in Wonderland, I was shrinking fast having drunk from the vial of certainty labelled “Drink Me!”
“Come here, Doc” my Dad said, placing his arm around my shoulder. He would often call me “Doc” – when he and I were going to have one of those formative talks a Father has with his Son. “Come on in here and let’s have a seat.” We crossed the hallway and entered the living room. We sat at one end of the chesterfield in front of the windows. My tie was beginning to feel tight at my neck. I sat nervously, wondering what I had said that was wrong. I just knew that something was wrong: something I had said. My Dad, sitting beside me, angled himself slightly so as to make our exchange intimate, personal.
“Doc,” he began, “I know what you are trying to say. Mum and I both know. But you know, you mustn’t say it.”
I looked at him, incredulously. I was confused. He and I had studied the Catechism together. He asked me; I asked him – we had done this together! I thought that today was another step. The next step. Closer.
“You’re an Anglican,” he went on, “because you were given to us by God. God might just as easily have given you to the Smith’s – in which case you’d be a Roman Catholic. Or he might have given you to the Jones’ – in which case you’d be a Baptist. Or he might have given you to the Levine’s – and then you’d be Jewish. As it is, you’re here with us. And we are – all three of us – simply trying to be with God.”
Had Irvine been Levine, I would find my feet on another path. The longer I walk on the path which I have traveled these many years, the clearer my Dad's counsel becomes, but it has never been any clearer than on the day that I sipped a mug of hot tea with two others who walk faithfully with me.
Copyright © 2003 James T. Irvine