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The first time I visited Father Thomas it was a Saturday evening. Already the autumn leaves had fallen and the winter air was crisp with chill. He had invited me over for a game of chess when I had seen him at the grocer earlier that day. He was a kindly old man in his late fifties and was known to spend a great deal of time caring for folk in the community. My mother had told me that he would run the old lass’s from the frail care home attached to the church down to the market on Thursdays and they all thought he was the bee’s knees. Once, when my friend James, who faithfully attends St Stephens, was in a fix at home with a broken geyser and water all over the place, it was the good Father who pitched up, spanners and all, to help with the clean up operation.
I thought of him as lonely having lost his wife and all. I remember that the obituary had described their love as enduring. I guess you could say that I felt sorry for him. All those people around him and yet no one close to him. So, when he asked if I’d come over that Saturday evening for dinner and a game, I said yes. My good deed done for the day.
The rectory was on the church grounds. It was a white washed double story building with a shale roof and wooden doors and frames that were painted black. It had ivy trailing all the way up to the roof on the southern side. I walked around to the front door and stood outside in the cool of the evening for a moment and then knocked.
His voice boomed down the hall from the kitchen, “Come in Angus, the doors not locked.”
I went in, hung my coat on the hook and waited for my host in the hallway. I could hear that in the lounge a fire was crackling, lifting the temperature and making the house comfy. From the kitchen an aroma of roasted something wafted down the hallway. Father Thomas appeared, dressed casually, with a cheery face and a kitchen towel draped over his shoulder. Shaking my hand he said, “You’ll have to come and join me in the kitchen; the duck is not quite done.”
“Wow, Father, duck. You shouldn’t have gone to all the effort.” I love duck.
“No, no effort son, now follow me to the kitchen and help me set the table.”
The kitchen looked functional, a small oak table with two chairs stood against the side wall and the sill was lined with tiny potted herbs. The smell of the duck simmering away in the oven made my mouth start to drool. Father Thomas pointed out a cupboard where a checked red and white table cloth lived and the cutlery draw. I got started setting the table while he put the finishing touches on the bird.
“So, Angus, how’s your mom and dad?”
“Father Thomas, you probably see them more frequently than I do.”
“mmm, possibly. I guess I haven’t seen you much at church lately have I?” It wasn’t really an accusation but it did make me feel a bit uncomfortable.
I finished my task and took a seat, it wasn’t too long and the bird was placed on the table with a carving knife and fork next to them.
“Would you do the honours?” I was asked.
Minutes later with the bird cut and plates dished Father Thomas turned to me and asked, “Angus, would you be so kind as to thank God for the food?”
“um, I’d rather not; It’s your house and all.”
“All right,” he said with a whisper of a smile, “Our Father in heaven, thank you for the food. Amen.”
That was it. I kind of expected more.
Later, after clearing the table and doing the dishes, we sat down in the lounge close to the fire place on either side of a small wooden table with two draws containing the chess pieces. I opened my draw and diligently laid out the carved black pieces on the board in front of me.
“So Angus, what’s up between yourself and God?” mmm, that’s why I was here. I wonder if my mother had put him up to this?
“Yes, absolutely nothing is up between God and I.” I thought about it before adding, “I don’t think I believe that he’s out there anymore.”
“hmm,” said father Thomas as he played his king’s pawn to the centre square of the board.
“It’s not that I don’t think that there’s a place for the church in the world you see, I just don’t think that my place is in the church anymore.” Feeling a bit defensive I advanced with queen’s pawn to D6. “I don’t know.”
Father Thomas sat for the longest time examining the board and then looked up. “When you say you don’t believe he’s out there anymore what exactly do you mean Angus?”
He waited for an answer. I sat thinking. After a while the queen’s pawn launched forward allowing white full control of the centre of the board.
“I don’t believe there is a God out there at all. I think my parents did their best to grow me up in the same tradition as they have but…” but what? I knew what I wanted to say I just didn’t want to hurt the old guy’s feelings. “…but, the worlds changed and there is no longer space in it for these antiquated ideas.”
That was it. That was where I stood. Now it was said and done. I picked up the king’s knight and move it to the middle board, readying it for the battle that was to come.
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