The Small White Coffin

This poem is based on a true story that happened to me in 1985. Priests are human beings, capable of the best of things, capable of the worst of things. We need to pray for them in their demanding ministry…

Many years ago I visited a house,

Intent on bringing God’s blessing:

Joy and peace to all – and yet

Found my presence was distressing.


The young woman, stood at the door,

Saw my garb and looked through me;

Shadows on her face, hesitating;

Her husband appeared, also gloomy.


Something here was very wrong;

And I wondered if their door,

Would open or slam in my face.

Was God welcome here anymore?


They let me in, quietly stressed,

And listened politely as I talked.

I spoke of grace and peace, yet

When I made to pray – they baulked.


The young man spoke his mind:

“Where you stand now and pray,

A few months ago our only child,

In a small white coffin lay”.


“Seventeen days old or young;

Long enough to be mad with grief;

Our beautiful little baby,

Torn from us by a celestial thief”.


Anger with God I understood,

But something more came to light:

The local parish priest had called;

Arrangements made that very night.


The couple never went to church;

What a chance to touch their hearts!

To cry with them and feel their pain;

And show what only faith imparts?


When the young man had asked:

“Why does God allow such a thing?”

The reverend gentleman shot back:

“What have you done for God then?”


What a crass and vile retort

From one called to be a witness;

To be God’s hands and loving heart;

To embody love and forgiveness.


“Whatever we might’ve done or not;

I tell you this, loud and clear,

After the funeral rights are done,

To your church, we’ll not come near!”


“You can keep your religion;

Your stale God and teaching;

We don’t need to listen to

Such cold and spiteful preaching!”


Two souls wracked with grief and pain;

A God who longed to comfort them.

What Church could produce a man,

Who only magnified the problem?


My heart sank at such a tale;

I really thought I’d heard it all;

I apologised as best I could

And left, feeling very small.