A Priest's Tale: Autobiography of a Gay Priest
Excerpt: St. James
With Stephen's arrival our meals took a notable upturn. He was an excellent cook and was especially talented in preparing meals for larger numbers. We began the practice of having dinner parties once each month and inviting six or seven parishioners at a time in an endeavour to strengthen the bond between us and the parish. The long refectory table seated 8 or 10 comfortably, and this was an excellent way to get to know people and to express our gratitude for their hospitality and kindness to us.
One of my tasks was to keep track of dinner guests on my word processor and to send out the invitations. Over the course of those years, I estimate that we had more than 200 people to dinner parties. These were extremely pleasant occasions, beginning with cocktails in the drawing room and eventually moving to the dining room. Dinner conversations were spirited and witty; an extremely pleasant way for us to relate to people, and they to us. There surely is no better way to socialize than to do it as food is shared. I have always felt it no accident that Our Lord chose to enshrine the most profound experience of His life in a meal.
Each of us had our special chores on these dinner occasions; Stephen usually supervised the main meat or fish dish; I laundered and ironed the linen table napkins and prepared vegetables; David made salads, did the polishing of silver and setting the table.
On one of these occasions, the first two guests arrived at the appointed time and we took their coats and led the two ladies into the sitting room. Soon drinks were poured at the sideboard and sherry served. As Stephen and I sat chatting with the ladies, Frieda, the Clergy House cat, strolled into the room and went immediately toward one of the two women. She was also a cat fancier and thought she knew why Frieda had gone to her so decisively. She said to Frieda, "Oh, hello! Do you smell my pussy?"
I nearly choked on my Scotch and quickly excused myself to go to the kitchen to check on the roast. Stephen soon followed me and we had a dreadful time trying to regain our composure and calm down. It was several minutes before we dared return to the drawing room.
One of the joys of a busy parish is the sheer variety of things that happen in the course of a day's work. Someone will come to the door with a long story of hardship, eventually working up to the root of the thing-a request for 'just enough money to get out to White Rock'--a favourite destination it seemed--where a job was waiting, or perhaps for enough money to buy a gallon of gas to get the car home.
One becomes a little immune to this scamming. We were fortunate that we were almost always able to refer people to our Social Service offices on Powell Street or to food sources. More often than not, the scammers came to us in the evening when they knew full well that our social service offices were closed because they really wanted money rather than food or assistance. There were also unexpected encounters to brighten the day.
One day, dressed in my cassock, I answered the Clergy House door and the young man standing on the step, obviously a little taken aback by my attire, blurted out enthusiastically, "Oh, love your outfit!" He happened to be from a local theatre company and had come by to ask if we would put up a few posters around the parish.
An encounter of a stranger sort was with a young man who persisted in visiting the church for several weeks. He was a very attractive and affable young man, always dressed neatly, and rather intriguing which made it difficult not to want to spend time listening to him. But first impressions can be misleading.
He carried with him scribblers and papers with many of his notes which he wanted to discuss. He believed they were messages from God, and at other times from aliens with important messages and warnings for us. After reading several of these notes I realized that they were truly nonsense and that he had deep problems. In due course, I discovered he was a resident in one of our facilities and that he had been diagnosed as bipolar amongst other things.
One Sunday he insisted on talking with me just after the High Mass. He seemed particularly addled and wanted to talk privately. We went back through the corridor behind the High Altar into the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. I noticed Robert, from our social services office, keeping an eye on us. Robert knew this young man was an unpredictable and troubled person, possibly even dangerous. Discussions with the youth rather fascinated me because he was so bizarre. He even once described in detail the alien beings that had revealed themselves to him, and had somewhat plausible reasons for the whole scenario. I assumed these images had come to him by way of television or books.
That particular Sunday things took a rather comical turn. He must have sensed I was skeptical about his tales and he became a little defensive. At one point in our discussion, he looked me in the eye and asked, "Are you gay?" Somewhat startled, I responded, "Whatever makes you ask that?" He said, "Well, I can tell anyway because of the powers I have been given." Then, he asked me to stand up with my arms outstretched as if in a security check and dramatically ran his hands around my outline--my aura perhaps--slowly from the top of my head to my feet. I was intrigued to know what was coming next. Finally, he sat down and said, "OK, you're not." What a relief! We sat down and continued our weird conversation, which really had no beginning, middle or end.
Most of the work of any parish is not quite as exotic as that, but rather, consists in visiting people in hospital or at home; doing administrative things in the office; writing letters; and organizing meetings or events and then attending them. There was a lot of driving involved as St. James' is a gathered parish with members living all over the city and outlying communities.
During my time at St. James' I drove a cute, white Honda Civic. I had to buy a new car when I arrived at St. James', as I had no need of a vehicle while living on Cormorant Island and had sold my former car. Actually, Fr. David and I both had Honda Civics; his black and mine white. Over time, we discovered a rather strange phenomenon-perhaps one of those inscrutable mysteries of the universe. When birds defecated on our cars, on his car it was always white, while on mine it was always black.