Some would argue that the Son of Man who has nowhere to lay his head has been locked out of the Church of Ireland for a long time. Now this ecclesiastical situation has been monumentalised in the grounds of Christchurch, the national cathedral in Dublin. A number of years ago when a friend of mine was the newly appointed curate to Saint Werburgh’s on Werburgh Street, not a stone’s throw from the gates of the cathedral, he commented that the church had to remain locked up throughout the day because of its proximity to a Methadone Clinic. His fear was that drug users attending the clinic would wander into the church. Almost as soon as he said these words it dawned on him that my grin reflected the complete absurdity of his comment – putting the needs of the fixtures and fittings over a genuine compassion for those in the city who are most in need of welcome and love. Not too far down the hill from the national cathedral is the second Church of Ireland cathedral of the city, Saint Patricks – more of a tourist spot than a place of prayer. It was at Saint Patrick’s that we got to see the real indifference of the Church for the homeless and the needy.
During the US and British invasion of Afghanistan there were a number of Afghan man who decided to seek sanctuary inside the cathedral. The Irish state had made the decision to repatriate them back to Afghanistan in spite of their claims that they faced the death penalty. The then dean of the cathedral, Robert McCarthy, a man infamous for his intolerant and islamophobic remarks, decided to leave Ireland for the duration of the crisis and leave its remedy to John Winder Neill the Archbishop. The outcry in the Church of Ireland was that daily prayer was interrupted, and that it had gone uninterrupted for a few hundred years or something. Few were prepared to concede that the prayers of the Muslim refugees counted as prayers at all. John Neill was having none of this, and so assisted the state authorities in the forceful removal of the cathedral’s most unwelcome guests. Nothing has been heard of these men since, but we can presume that they are long dead. It is only fitting then that Jesus is left sleeping rough outside the cathedral. My only surprise is that they have let him remain in the grounds. No doubt when the stunt has paid dividends they will quietly move him on.