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A Shout From The Attic: The Fighting Parson

...I was approached by the resident thug demanding to know if I was “religious.” I replied in the affirmative, whereupon he invited me to fight him. To my surprise, I accepted his invitation without flinching...

To be right and please God, it is sometimes obligatory for us to take on the enemy, says Ronnie Bray.

To read more chapters of Ronnie's reminiscences please click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page.

When I had worked for eighteen months at The Huddersfield Brick Tile and Stone Company, at Prince Royd, Birchencliffe, I experienced my first foray into the minefield of labour relations, by striking for parity with the brickie, who I must refer to as ‘First-name-forgot’ Kane, and was sacked for my trouble, so I took a position in Sharratt's brickyard about a mile or so down the Elland side of the Ainleys, on the main Halifax Road.

In the Birchencliffe brickyard, I had been known as a Mormon boy who took pocket sized scriptures to work and read them in his idle moments. While this caused no problems, it did raise a certain amount of interest, but was mostly viewed as being just something that I did and left at that.

When I moved to Sharratt's, my religious observances were seen as aberrant and unacceptable behaviour for rough folks in rough employment. After I had been working there three days, I was sat at my machine taking off newly-pressed house bricks, when I was approached by the resident thug demanding to know if I was “religious.” I replied in the affirmative, whereupon he invited me to fight him. To my surprise, I accepted his invitation without flinching, raising my voice, or taking my eyes off the raw bricks spewing from the mouth of the mechanical press. He seemed equally surprised.

He disappeared round the corner of the brick hole to reappear two minutes later to ask me if he could bring a friend with him to the fight so that it would be two to one. Again, I said that would be just fine. He left but came back twice more, each time adding to the list of his protagonists who were to take me on at dinner time in the field across the road from the entrance to the brickyard. Each time I told him that his suggestion was fine.

The last time he came with a mounting number of lieutenants, with some exasperation evident I told him that he could bring whoever he wanted and that I would fight them all together. On his last visit, he informed me that his armed force had reached the unlucky-for-some number and was thirteen strong. "That's fine," I said placidly. "I'll see you at one o'clock.” I may have smiled.

At one o'clock, I crossed the road carrying a large bottle of the yellow lemonade, made in the factory by the side of the sunlit field where I stood, drank, and waited for the horde to arrive. At the end of the lunch break, when I was full of lemonade but very lonely from the opposing army's failure to show, I walked back into the brickyard and resumed work. From time to time, young men would walk around the comer near where my machine was situated, look at me, and walk back. This happened twelve times.

From that time on I was known as “The Fighting Parson," and lead a life free of harassment and scorn, my new workmates showing conspicuous respect for an unlikely Christian warrior. What the young brawler never discovered, because he was too afraid to find out, was that if he had fought me, even by himself, he would more than likely have knocked the stuffing out of me.

I have not had many fights and have only lost one of those I have had. I do not like fighting and would rather avoid confrontation, but there are times when decent people have to stand up fearlessly or fearfully for what is right, simply because it is the right thing to do.

Twenty years following this adventure, I worked at Shaw's Pallets in Dobcross, Lancashire, over the Pennines from Huddersfield. One worker was six foot two inches tall and a bully who used his size to intimidate smaller men, and we were all smaller than he was! I witnessed him perform an act of high foolishness that could have seriously injured another operative. I went across to him and told him in no uncertain terms that if I ever saw him do anything like that again I would report him to the management and would expect them to deprive him of his employment and press criminal charges. His response was grunted belligerence.

Later that day, whilst queuing to "clock out" he pushed in the queue. I took exception to his unfairness and told him to get to the back of the queue. He became belligerent but this time he added threats and imprecations to his fuming. I invited him out to the back of the factory to fight it out. He stood stock still, looking into my face to gauge my intentions whilst figuring his options. I have never exceeded five feet seven-and-one-half inches in height, and I weighed about eleven stone seven. He was about ten years my junior and weighed in at an athletic fifteen and a half stone.

His thinking done, he said that if he fought me he would miss his bus. I said that if he fought me, win, lose, or draw, I would give him a lift home in my car. He thought some more before his courage folded, then, grunting, he joined the back of the queue, with his machismo evaporated, his power publicly shredded, and his bullying days at an end. My stock rose immeasurably. I was regarded as courageous, with an alternate reading of foolhardy, charges to which I plead guilty due to derangement. My would-be antagonist suffered from uncertainty, but most of all from pure cold fear, as is most often the case with bullies.

It is quite possible that I would have lost both fights miserably and I knew it. But there are times when we have to risk defeat, even be prepared to lose in order that truth, righteousness, and justice, are given their proper place in our communities. And we need to know that some things, like truth and love, are worth fighting for, and we lose only when we stand silent and indolent in the face of injustice, hatred, prejudice, or unrighteousness.

The truly Christian life has been lived when, at its end, we can declare with Paul,

I Have Fought a Good Fight,
I Have Finished My Course,
I Have Kept the Faith

To be right and please God, it is sometimes obligatory for us to take on the enemy, even when he is bigger than we are, more vigorous than we are, and even when he comes against us in battalions!


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