Janet, I had to write and tell you, it’s just so shocking.
I daresay you’ve heard ( it was on the Beeb last night and today and in the parish we’ve talked of nothing else), but to think we were actually there.
Where to begin? So last month we were told (very hushhush) that the Bishop was having a dinner. John’s on that committee so we get tickets to all the big events, but this one was different. This one had a special guest. You’re not going to guess. No, guess.
It was Him off Newsnight. The preacher bloke! You know – walks on water, wine to water (or was it the other way round? Anyway. Uh-may-zing. Talk about a hot ticket…Church Times have been trying to get him for weeks and here he is in London!
I’m jumping ahead.
On the night, it’s madness: those dreadful paps outside the palace and hardly anyone on the doors. But everyone and I mean everyone is there: even John was impressed and you know he’s friends with Paxman.
So we’re waiting for the Preacher, though the way the Bishop’s air-kissing and posing, you’d think he was the main event. We’re at table B with Maureen and Douglas, the Barnhouses and some bloke from the back of beyond: terrible suit, smelt funny and a bit mumbly, you know. Clearly way out of his depth. They’d even mislaid his place – no champagne or welcome pack and his soup spoon was missing. Plus he missed on the foot-wash: and you know how smoggy it is in the city. I almost spoke to him but with Hello! on standby you have to be careful.
Still no sign of our guest, but then the Bishop takes to the stage. Does the usual welcomes, but then knock me down if he doesn’t wave over at Mr Mumble. The guy in the used-car salesman’s suit. That’s him. That’s this preacher. Well, I could hardly speak I was so disappointed. Total waste of a blow-dry: and we’ve still got 20 minutes of the Bishop droning on about the Church Fund. Last year was the children’s choir, and the year before was the donkeys. This time it’s the red-light regeneration and he’s only brought one of the whores in from off the programme. They’d tried to clean her up, but it was still obvious. Broken tooth, far too much make-up, tugging on her skirt like that’d cover up her past. Now, I’m not one to judge, but there’s a place for her sort, and it’s not the Bishop’s palace. My eyes felt dirty just looking at her.
And that’s when it all kicks off. She’s twisting her napkin and looking at the floor like she wants it to swallow her, but when the Bishop mentions the preacher, you can see her stop. She’s meant to go out the back door but she steps off the stage, bold as brass and comes over to our table. Well. I was half-way through my bread roll and choked so hard John had to rub my back. But no-one’s looking at me. We’re all glued to the preacher and this tramp, who’s kneeling at his feet.
You could have heard a Tiffany pin drop. Even the bouncers are frozen. He must have known: this holy man, with some dirty, two-bit hooker crying into his loafers. She’s got a broken nail and she’s wiping his feet with her extensions, (I’ll bet they’re not even real). But he just lets her. He doesn’t push her off or call security. He puts his hand on her head and he’s talking to her – too soft for me to catch. He lifts her chin and I suddenly there’s this smell. I’m sniffing and I think, I know this and I’m right – Chanel No 5. Not the spray stuff you get in the chemist. The proper concentrate. And this tart has only broken open a whole bottle – thousands of pound’s worth – and poured in on his feet.
There’s a spluttering sound and we swivel to see the Bishop, purple as his robes and bristling with anger. He’s coming over and it’s clear the woman’s going to get it. The room follows him as one – but before he reaches us, the preacher stands up. He starts telling a story:
“Two people owed money to a merchant banker in the city. One owed five billion pounds, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
The Bishop’s flustered. Where’s he going with this? “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You’re absolutely right,” says the preacher.
Then he turns to the hooker and says to the Bishop, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss,but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little”.
Then – unbelievable – he says to the whore, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you; go in peace”. Like he has the power to forgive sins! Especially the sins of someone like her. And she gets up and weeping, follows him out of the room with his friends.
For a moment there’s complete silence. Even the Bishop doesn’t speak. But as he scrapes back a chair and dashes to the exit, the flashbulbs start popping and we’ve talked of nothing else since.
Read the full report here