Scenes from Clerical Life (1) – St Salvador’s, Edinburgh
My first position after ordination by the Bishop of Edinburgh was as Curate of St Salvador’s church in a poor area of Edinburgh. This district contained the main prison of the East of Scotland, and my Rector and I were the Episcopalian chaplains to the prison. This was not a very onerous duty, as most of the prisoners were either Roman Catholic or Presbyterian, Episcopalians being thin on the ground anywhere in Scotland.
While I was still a Deacon, a prisoner who was about to be transferred to another prison asked me to hear his confession. Of course I knew that a deacon could not give sacramental absolution, but I also knew that my Rector was sick, and that the prisoner was unlikely to go to confession in his new prison. So I heard his confession and gave him absolution, saying: “Our Lord Jesus Christ … forgive thee all thy sins, and by his authority which is about to be committed unto me, I absolve thee from all thy sins …”
When I next saw the Bishop, I confessed what I had done, and he was kind enough to say that he understood the dilemma I had been in. But then he added, with a twinkle in his eye, “Well, I suppose now I’ll just have to ordain you priest, or that absolution will never take effect!”