Howard Langmead - social commentator, comedian & cleric
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A short story by Howard Langmead
Runner up in The Age Funny Short Story Competition 2001
Published in The Age March 2001

The nemesis of a spiritual teacher is not the atheist in the street but the insightful and outspoken person in the pew. Every priest, rabbi or guru understands the concept of the feral worshipper. The person who eats the priest at the parish picnic and requests a Bishop for seconds. In my ministry this role was fulfilled by my three year old daughter Hannah.

My ordination service was a solemn and pompous affair, an Anglican art. St. Paul's Cathedral was packed beyond capacity as I processed in my new robes and my imagined halo gleaming. Hannah spotted me. With her experience of waking me during the night she easily filled the cathedral with her voice. She shouted with damnable honesty, "There's daddy pretending to be a minister!" My career in the church was doomed from that moment.

I went as a curate to a large eastern suburban parish. A curate is an apprentice minister. It is unrelated to the curette of gynecological fame. Hannah was told the rules of behaviour in church for three year old children of curates. She was free to do anything so long as she was quiet. This included reading, drawing and walking around the church with her shoes off.

During my first sermon to the bored looking North Balwyn faces, Hannah went boldly where no one had gone before. She entered the sanctuary and explored the potential that the holy furnishings had as gymnastic equipment. She then moved to the communion rail and twirled herself around and around, very quietly. She brought a more animated response to the faces of the startled worshippers than I had managed by my fervent preaching.

After the service, sensing she might not get all the paternal approval she had hoped for, Hannah queued with the parting parishioners who were welcoming me to St. Stephen's. She stood before me, reached up to shake my hand and said, "I was very quiet, wasn't I?"

Not surprisingly, soon after this, the bishop arranged to visit my family at home. My wife was pregnant, and Hannah was following her progress with great interest. Hannah's favourite book at that stage was 'Where Do I Come From?' She read it to me every night and would ask meaningfully, "Do we really need another baby in this family?"

When the bishop arrived Hannah was in the lounge room lying in the bean bag, her hands joined above her head and her body squirming. The bishop asked condescendingly, "What are you doing, dear?"

She stopped her gyrating and gave him that intense look that three year olds reserve for really stupid adults and replied, "I'm a sperm, looking for an egg." She returned to her experiential sex education session. The bishop again reassessed my suitability for ministry.

I love Hannah. One day she may understand why I sent her to the Baptist church down the road.