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;
repeated cliches too well-known:
the Quaker silence we disowned.
‘Sacred Songs’ sung as best able,
bap bun on ‘worldly’ card table:
the beaded-doily covered sherry glass
rang bell-like, echoed frowned-on Mass.
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.
We sang unaccompanied, scripture shared
but rarely was a vulnerable heart bared.
Sometimes scripture was properly set alight,
our ‘Upper Room” filled with holy might,
sometimes, even I, plain prayer would utter;
sheer nervous intensity caused my stutter.
In the summer zealous “youth teams” came –
Northern adolescents making strident claims;
uncompromising accents in small-town squares,
shouting “dear sinner-friend”, ignoring any stares.
‘Authorised’ black Bibles, undiplomatic tracts
presented the truth – the foursquare facts;
most ill-at-ease under these “grey skies”,
they never quite exploded “Romish lies”.
What did their “prayer letters” report?
What did local “unsaved” sinners retort?
Protestant plain, we were seen as a sect,
From small-minded locals, what did I expect?
Nick-named “white mice” by local people
dominated by Romanesque-style steeple.
Our non-conformist views gave offence;
we even made the “C of I” parish tense.
The hymns we droned failed to inspire:
no roaring trade winds, no tongues of fire.
Even the holy bun finished up with hens!
But I still believe – more than back then.
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.”