We were the faithful, we were true:
we never knelt or sat in pews,
all seated in a circle broken,
long prayers in Ulster accents spoken;
repeating cliches too well-known:
the Quaker silence we disowned.
Uncertain acapella, robust belief aired,
then some cliche scripture portion shared,
the sermons droned failed to inspire:
tamped down tight any tongues of fire.
Oh! The lisp of India-paper pages,
we were the Brethren, scriptural sages,
all the ladies’ heads were covered,
all the children’s giggles smothered.
Sometimes even I, a prayer would utter;
sheer spiritual intensity caused my stutter.
In summer the ardent adolescents came –
Northern dialects made strident claims;
unshakeable statements in small-town squares,
shouting out salvation, blind to shocked stares.
Black their bibles, blunt their crass tracts,
dire truth told, fundamentalist facts;
most ill-at-ease under these “grey skies”,
they never quite exploded “Papist lies”.
What did “prayer letters” home report?
With what sneers did rural “sinners” retort?
Mountmellick misfits, dire our disconnect,
socially segregated – an insipid sect?
much missionary effort but what the cost,
meagre heaven’s harvest and little love lost…
NOTE: “Grey skies” is part of Paisley’s dictum: “We shall not exchange the blue skies of Ulster for the grey skies of the Republic.”