Everybody Needs a Priest Hole

The movie Skyfall includes a reference to a Priest Hole.

I’d never heard of a Priest Hole (unless we’re talking about the mouth of a long-winded preacher) and so I looked it up after we got home.  Apparently during Reformation England when Roman Catholic priests were being hunted down and killed, secret rooms were built behind fireplaces and under floor boards to hide them from Protestant enforcers sent by Queen Elizabeth I.  Nicholas Owen was martyred and later canonized for designing many of these secret spaces.

Who doesn’t need a priest hole sometimes?

My work involves staffing the commission that shepherds seminarians into professional ministry, and we were talking yesterday about essential tips for new clergy.  Some tell new pastors to get a dog so you have an excuse to go home (to walk the dog) after a long meeting.  Some say that it’s essential to get exercise in the middle of the day to process the  unrelenting shifts from sacred (caring for people with intense emotional/spiritual issues) to banal (organizing the worship bulletin, picking Advent hymns.)  Some insist that – if you can possibly afford it – hire someone to clean your house so that you don’t have to dust and vacuum on your one day off.

What all these things have in common is escape.  Sometimes we need to escape, to hide, to protect ourselves.  Pondering this phenomenon, I wonder if the need to escape is only true for pastors and priests serving traditional institutional churches.

I have bi-vocational clergy friends who escape the vicissitudes of professional ministry by doing their other jobs: working construction or teaching piano or serving coffee.  And what about other kinds of professionals?  Teachers and health care workers and police officers and bankers?  Don’t they also need an escape?  Or do we clergy types believe our work is more stressful, more demanding, more draining?

Maybe we all need a priest hole where we can pray and celebrate whatever liturgy feeds our souls.  I suppose my priest hole is a coffee shop or my sofa when the house is empty.  What’s yours?

The image is a drawing of Saint Nicholas Owen at work designing a priest hole behind a fireplace.

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2 responses to “Everybody Needs a Priest Hole

  1. One person’s sacred may be another person’s banal; one person’s banal might be another’s sacred. For me it is more about either escaping the crowd or escaping isolation – both of which can be wonderful and maddening! Occasionally escaping a particular person is necessary – though rarely permanent.

    That said, I’ve always longed for hidden, private space for me alone. Maybe an old potting shed with the interior refit as a personal library or a grown up treehouse. Hmm.

  2. Christine Chakoian

    This made me think back on my ministry – some of my happiest years were bivocational when I was minister-mom. I delighted in escaping to homemaking in its fullest sense. and I delighted in work that expected me to write and think, and care about other people’s lives. Empty nesting, needless to say, sent me on a search for my next escape. Now mostly I find it in editing and writing unrelated to my congregation.

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