We tend to think of parsons as benign, decent sorts, but some were driven into the profession because they were not fit for anything else, which explains some of the following. But it was as much the church’s fault for the trade in livings by which favoured clerics could earn large sums for doing very little, whilst employing the less fortunate to do the work, which meant many parishes were very badly served, as here.
Wilson was still served for the most part by curates who rode over eery Sunday from another parish, gabbled through the service, gabbed through the service, and totted home again. Moreover, whether a curse settled on Kelly’s church on the day of its consecration or not, I doubt if any village ever had to put up with the ministrations of such a succession of unsatisfactory clerics. As a boy I remember being detailed to hang on to the coat-tails of one so drunk at a funeral that there was a danger of his falling into the open grave. Another was a kleptomaniac, whose hobby it was to collect silver spoons from the tables of his hosts. The farewell sermon of yet another’s long remembered. “When the pitiless rains of winter beat against your window-panes,” he wailed, “you’ll think of me! when the soft summer zephyrs whisper through the tops of the trees, you’ll think of me! When the sweet spring flowers fling their enchanting scents into the sun-kited air, you’ll think of me! And [in a whisper] when, under the sombre skies of autumn, the wind moans sadly through the leafless forest, you’ll think of me!” He was a true prophet, for never was a man more thought of than he; when he went, church funds, Sunday school funds, and I know not what went too – never to return.
The climax, however, was reached just after I was ordained. I had returned home on a visit toy father and sister, and in her company attended evening service at toehold church. It was soon evident that the parson was hardly himself, but he weathered through fairly well till he reached the psalms. “Over Edom will I casht my shoe,” he mumbled. “Over Philishtia will I triumph – over Edom” …. He swayed this way and that, smiling foolishly, and then, sprawling forward across the reading desk, slept! There were some hundreds of people in church that night, and before them all Mr Barfood, one of the churchwardens, marched up the aisle, seized him and shook him, and roared, “Come down out of it, and let Master Edward get upend finish the service!” This I did, and preached too. Still, how could one wonder if the cloth was looked upon with increasing contempt as the years passed by.