The old clerk is usually intensely loyal to the Church and to his clergyman, but there have been some exceptions. An example of a disloyal clerk comes from the neighbourhood of Barnstaple.
A parish clerk, apparently religious and venerable, held his position in a village church in that district for thirty years. He carried out his duties with regularity and thoroughness equalled only by the parish priest. This old clerk would frequently make remarks—not altogether pleasing—about Nonconformists, whom he summed up as a lot of “mithudy nuezenses” (methodist nuisances).
A new rector came and brought with him new ideas. The parish clerk would not be required for the future. As soon as the old clerk heard this he attached himself to a local dissenting body and joined with them to worship in their small chapel. This, after thirty years’ service in the Church and a bitter feeling against Nonconformists, is rather remarkable.
In the forties there was a sleepy clerk at Hampstead, a very portly man, who did ample justice to his bright red waistcoat and brass buttons. The church had a model old-time three-decker. The lower deck was occupied by the clerk, the upper deck by the reader, and the quarter-deck by the preacher. The clerk, during the sermon, would often fall asleep and make known his state by a snore. Then the reader would tap his bald head with a hymn-book, whereupon he would wake up and startle the congregation by a loud and prolonged “Ah-men.”
We are accustomed now to have our churches beautifully decorated with flowers and fruits and holly and evergreens at the great festivals and harvest thanksgiving services. Sometimes on the latter occasions our decorations are perhaps a little too elaborate, and remind one of a horticultural show. No such charge could be brought against the old-fashioned method of church decoration. Christmas was the only season when it was attempted, and sprigs of holly stuck at the corners of the old square pews in little holes made for the purpose were always deemed sufficient. This was always the duty of the clerk. Later on, when a country church was found to be elaborately decorated for Christmas and the clerk was questioned on the subject, he replied, shaking his head, “Ah! we’re getting a little High Church now.” At Langport, Somerset, the pews were similarly adorned on Palm Sunday with sprigs of the catkins from willow trees to represent palms.