The Church Cat – a story from Revd Peter Calvert
I wonder if you have noticed that the Bible doesn’t have much to say about pets. The nearest I know is in the Apocrypha, in the Book of Tobit. When Tobias sets out on his journey with the angel, we are told that “the young man’s dog went with him”.
But there aren’t any cats. There are quite a few leopards in the scriptures, and lions galore, but not a puss in sight. We have been redressing the balance recently at St Mary’s, when for several weeks we were visited on a regular basis by a tabby cat who decided that she wanted to take up residence with us.
The effect on the church family was interesting. Ever since the disciples decided to have a row about who was the greatest, the followers of Jesus have found a multitude of topics on which they can differ – and in our own time there are many issues which strain relationships between Christians to the breaking point. But none of them compares with the strength of feelings between those who like cats, and those who don’t.
Our feline visitor swiftly divided the church folk into two camps. She was welcomed with open arms – literally – by some, who encouraged her to feel at home. Since the church is open during the day, and staffed by kindly people with access to a carton of milk, she rapidly took over. So when those who were less enthusiastic put her out of the vestry door, she would be back through the main entrance within seconds.
After she had been around for a few days, I realised that she was, somewhat alarmingly, beginning to behave like a certain kind of churchgoer. For instance, she had her own favourite spots in church – and was quite put out if anybody displaced her. She enjoyed company – up to a point. She definitely didn’t like it when the church was busy and bustling, and would maintain a majestic aloofness on such occasions, ignoring the lot of us. She dutifully attended meetings, and quickly learned the knack, which some can take years to cultivate, of snoozing peacefully through the PCC meeting.
Worst of all, she displayed the “my church not yours” syndrome. One day another cat had the temerity to appear in the doorway – and was very swiftly dispatched. I was reminded of a recent radio programme about West Indian immigrants half a century ago who went to church on their first Sunday, and were told firmly not to come again. “This is my church, and there isn’t room for you” is sadly an attitude of humans as well as cats.
I’m sure that we aren’t as transparently unwelcoming these days, but this little tale does remind us to be on our guard at church, and not slip unthinkingly into the sort of casual offhandedness which can be so hurtful to the hesitant visitor – even if we don’t actually hiss and spit at them in the manner of our four-legged friend.
She has now moved on to a foster home away from the town centre, which should be safer, and available all hours. Some are pleased, and some miss her. I personally regret the lost opportunity of raising the eyebrows of the Diocesan Advisory Committee by applying for a faculty for a cat-flap.
We are very grateful to Revd Peter Calvert, who has been a regular visitor to Holy Trinity during the interregnum, leading many services for us.