It begins like a bad joke: Seven seminarians walk into a pub. But the joke was on the future priests, since they were almost denied entry for being dressed in cassocks.
The incident at The City Arms pub in Cardiff, Wales, was not a case of anti-Catholicism, but a case of mistaken identity.
The staff at the watering hole – one of the most popular in the city – thought the seminarians were attending a bachelor party (“stag do,” as they say in the United Kingdom), dressed in costumes for a night out.
It is common practice for bachelor and bachelorette parties to dress in costumes in Britain, and clergy and religious are a common theme.
“They were refused service, because we initially thought they were a stag group in fancy dress, which on the weekends we usually stay away from, because of the hijinks that usually happen,” Matt Morgan, assistant manager at The City Arms, told Wales Online.
(The hijinks the barman refers to can get out of hand. In 2009, Seventeen British men dressed as nuns were arrested in Greece for offending the religious sensibilities of the locals.)
Catholics make up less than ten percent of the population of Wales, so the barman couldn’t be blamed his initial error, but something about the group made him believe their claim to come by their outfits honestly.
He chased them out the door, to double-check their story.
“When I spoke to them, they understood, they even showed me a photo of them in a church with their clerics on, so I brought them in,” he continued. “They were fine; had a laugh. I gave them a drink – we complimented a drink for them, and they stayed all night.”
The seminarians were celebrating the ordination of a classmate, Father Peter McClaren. One of them was named Robert James, and since a local beer is called “Reverend James”, a picture was taken of Reverend James drinking a Reverend James.
Cardiff-based Brains Brewery were so amused they tweeted the photo, bringing the story to national attention, including that of the local archbishop, George Stack.
“We’d like to thank ‘The City Arms’ for being good sports through all of this, and their kind gesture to our seminarians – and please note a number of our clergy, including the Archbishop of Cardiff, frequent your bar, so don’t turf any more out please!” said a statement posted on the website of the Archdiocese of Cardiff on August 1.
“The seminarians in question included our own Rev. Nicholas Williams, Rev. Robert James (no, the pint isn’t named after him), Elliot Hanson and Dale Cutlan who took it all in good spirit,” the statement continued. “Although initially shocked, their only thought was, ‘Where are we going for our pint now?’”
The archdiocese said that throughout their stay at the famous bar, the young men continued to receive a warm welcome from the regulars whose curiosity was roused.
Fascinated by the young men, many of the patrons approached the seminarians and asked them questions. Many seemed surprised to learn that some had worked prior to entering seminary.
The archdiocese said the incident “adds another dimension to the term ‘Evangelization’.”