Rural parishes unable to find permanent members of the clergy have been forced to bring in supply vicars whose inexperience and lack of authority has made them vulnerable to disruptive parishioners, says a new report.
One temporary priest was reduced to tears with heckling and catcalling during his sermon, and when he looked up he saw that all the church-goers had turned their pews round to face the opposite direction. ‘These young supply vicars do not have the experience to be able to hold the attention of wayward Christians,’ admitted the Archbishop of Canterbury. ‘The moment they turn their back they are pelted with screwed up service sheets and Alpha Course leaflets made into paper planes, and many of them just don’t know what to do.’
In a small church in South Devon, one vicar was subjected to mass humming, while another gradually became aware that the mumbling and feigned coughing around the congregation was part of a daring game where each church-goer had to say the word ‘bollocks’ slightly louder than the last. In extreme cases of disruption, tearful vicars have run out to the vestry and phoned for the bishop, who has had to come down and give the congregation a serious talking to.
‘People imagine that church-goers are serene and gentle people, but nothing could be further from the truth’ said one vicar who has quit the Church after the pressure became too great. ‘On one occassion I asked the elderly congregation what they normally did for Evensong, and the old ladies told me they usually did black mass and sacrificed a goat to Beelzebub. How was I to know it was a wind up? It was only when I smeared the goat’s blood on my face and saw them giggling that I realized I had made a bit of an idiot of myself.’