Neil McNicholas: A special delivery of modern ignorance

THE words 'unbelievable' and 'incredible' tend to be a little overused at times, but I had an experience recently that was truly unbelievable, truly beyond belief.

The Royal Mail sorting office in Leeds - but the delivery of parcels by courier firms has attracted criticism from Neil McNicholas after Mass was interrupted.

I was celebrating morning Mass in my parish, sitting listening to the first scripture reading, when the church door opened and then closed again rather noisily.

Mine isn’t a big church and so, as I glanced up, I didn’t recognise the
young man who had come in, but 
took it to be a visitor who was, perhaps for that reason, unfamiliar with the time Mass started and was therefore a little late.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Out of the corner of my eye I realised that he hadn’t taken a seat in the congregation but was making his way towards me on the sanctuary. He was carrying a parcel about the size of a shoebox.

Given the sad reality of priests being attacked in church, I have always had
this scenario in my mind that in the event of something like this happening, someone would leap up and wrestle the person to the ground, or I would pick up the nearest chair and defend myself with it. But on this occasion no one moved – and neither did I. So much for the scenario!

And then the unbelievable bit kicked in: That he was attempting to deliver this parcel to me in the middle of Mass! Not only that, but he produced his electronic gizmo, fully expecting me to sign for it, probably having to also spell my name first.

I silently mouthed to him “I’m in the middle of Mass” (presuming he hadn’t noticed) and began shaking
my head in disbelief. He took this 
and the look on my face to be a sign 
that I was refusing to accept the parcel and so he picked it up and walked out again.

It absolutely beggars belief that, first of all, a courier (it turned out to be Parcelforce) would attempt to deliver something into a church, especially
given that the address on the parcel
was my house next door and I know
he knew that because he then went
and put a card though my letterbox. 
And so, if the delivery address was
my house, why try to deliver to the church?

But even more unbelievable is the fact that, in doing so, he totally ignored the fact that a service was going on, and walked the length of the church to give me the parcel – and expected me to sign for it! He appeared to be “white Anglo-Saxon”, by which I mean there was no excuse for his not having at least a basic awareness of church and a church service.

Sadly what this experience underscores is that, contrary to centuries of our history, we are now increasingly becoming a non-Christian – even an irreligious – society. More and more people appear to have no concept of church, are not church-going, and if they ever do find themselves inside a church have no idea how to conduct themselves appropriately.

This young man fitted the picture perfectly. He walked into church taking it to be just another building; he saw
that there were people gathered inside intent on what was going on, but ignored them; he saw me sitting at the front dressed in ceremonial vestments but they meant nothing to him; and he walked right up to the front and almost onto the sanctuary presumably with no sense whatsoever of the sacred. How sad is that?

And, of course, this experience came at a time when we who are church-going find ourselves have been fighting against the annual tide of “Christmas” godlessness on our High Streets.

In one of his books about his experiences as a school inspector in
the Yorkshire Dales, Gervase Phinn recalls a conversation he overheard between a parent and a teacher concerning the school Nativity play. The parent asked: “So what’s this play all about, then?” And we’ve probably also heard the stories of people saying about Christmas: “I don’t know why they have to keep bringing religion into it.” Scary stuff.

Thankfully the “visitor” to my
church wasn’t intent on doing me any harm, but the experience points to a deeper malaise in our society that you get the impression most people aren’t particularly concerned about, and as a consequence, the downward spiral continues morally, ethically and spiritually.