Grant, O God, that in all time of our testing we may know your presence and obey your will; that, following the example of your servant John Mason Neale, we may with integrity and courage accomplish what you give us to do, and endure what you give us to bear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen
– From Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2003
Fr. Neale is a pretty interesting priest. Considering that he received much scrutiny from the Anglicans of his day (19th century England), he still persisted and did what he believed God directed him to do. Being the translator of many hymns (including “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”), the co-founder of the Sisterhood of St. Margaret (now, the Society of St. Margaret), and the writer of many theological works. He is inspirational to many priests, especially Anglo-Catholics. However, his reputation during the early 19th century was suspect because of his support of the Oxford Movement. He was thought to be somewhat of a spy for the Vatican. This paranoia from his clergy colleagues and supervisors was intensified due to another Oxford Movement supporter, Fr. John Henry Newman, ultimately leaving Anglicanism and becoming Roman Catholic (ultimately, a Cardinal). Despite receiving opposition (some cases being attacked in the street), Fr. Neale continued with the plan God laid out for him.
Considering today is the day the Anglican Church commemorates Fr. Neale, the nature of my day was as such that I felt drawn the late priest.
Today, I was verbally attacked by a couple of inmates on religious grounds. Since it’s been a while, I let my guard down and let them get under my skin. These were two men who recently (I could tell from their baseless arguments. More seasoned members are more articulate and willing to converse intellectually) converted to the Nation of Islam. One posed as a Christian but argued as a NOI member. They began with asking me “Why are there so many pastors around, and none coming to the hole (administrative segregation unit, 23 hour lock-down)?” They ended with “They are getting paid for nothing! Not even doing their job!” The last tag line was directed at me, with the men making eye contact with me for emphasis.
What ensued were three men shouting at me, in front of 15 inmates, about how the institution keeps Black men down and that we, Black clergy (specifically, Black Christian clergy) are stupid enough to let the “white man and Catholics get away with it.”
[SIDE NOTE: The supposed “Catholic” they were referring to is a buddy of mine, who is a nun, and ISN’T Roman Catholic. In fact, she is a sister of the Society of St. Margaret!]
I tried to reason with them; explain the policies of the institution, etc. but they wanted no part of it. I resolved to let them shout and then challenge them on their actions. Asked them whom did they complain to? Did they speak to their Islamic minister? Their Pentecostal pastor? When they mumbled something to the effect of “yeah, but…” I was done. I blamed them for their lack of action. But rather than accept that as their fault, they continued to repeat that “we don’t do our job, etc…”
I was angry because these men attacked me due to me being Black and Anglican. It’s doubly sad for me when it’s other Black men. It’s the same as one Irish man attempting to shame another in public. That usually doesn’t end well in my neck of the woods (ie…the proceedings of the Whitey Bulger trial).
The interesting part is, after it was all said and done, I still attempted to help one of them seek a resolution for his issue, admits his condescending remarks to me in the process. I felt the hand of God telling me to see this crummy situation through even though my humanness wanted to bail out. A part of me believes that this one guy may see something different. That was God’s grace.
In the end, this was a reminder to me that people are going to attack those who wear their faith on their sleeve (in my case, on my neck) and are not ashamed of the Gospel. I had correction officers do the same sort of thing a couple of weeks ago in the dining facility. In the end, Fr. Neale’s story was especially appreciated today.