Commentary – Oh, those pesky autum-divers!

Chris Clegg

Christians have been persecuted for centuries. Jokes about the “Bible Thumpers’ are everywhere, despite the good work they do in the community.
Many studies show if you want to make a contribution that will benefit most toward ridding the world of hunger relief, donate through the churches. Many congregations are also very involved in their communities one way or another and make significant contributions to the health of their community.
But the “hate” goes on.
Those who oppose [I really should not use the word hate] religion really do not get it. Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, but it is difficult to understand why those who do not believe ridicule those who do. Does it really matter if one chooses to worship in a church to one who does not? So what if one chooses to go to church Sunday while you stay home!
Media loves to report on leaders of the church when they break the law, especially sex crimes. The Catholic Church has especially had to bear heavy criticism as case after case is made public.
At the risk of adding to the weight of the church, it was with interest I read about autum-divers in Long Forgotten English. Having never heard of the term before, autum-divers were pickpockets who practised their trade in churches. The term was published in George Matsell’s Vocabulum, The Rogue’s Lexicon, 1859.
Yes, apparently, pickpockets did not limit their feeding grounds to subways, malls and carnivals! What a surprise! Evil lurks everywhere. Indeed, some people go to church and pray on Sunday while the rest of the week they prey on everybody else!
Stories abound in the church of the breaking of the Eighth Commandment: Thou shall not steal! I am sure everyone has heard the old joke about someone putting $10 in the collection plate and taking $5 in change, or simply helping themselves to a little extra meal money.
However, the autum-divers story goes a little further in regard to church misconduct. William Andrews’s Bygone Punishments [1899] tells the story of a late 18th century police roundup that occurred Feb. 12.
“Tippling on Sunday during public divine service was in years ago a violation of the laws, and frequently was the means of offenders being placed in the stocks,” reads the story.
Wow! They were pretty darn serious back then!
In case you did not know, tippling is a Middle English term defined as drinking repeatedly in small amounts. This does not include multiple trips during the altar to sip wine.
In Sheffield, England on Feb. 12, 1790 the public record shows nine men were locked in the stocks for drinking in a public house during the time of service in church.
A public house is a pub. Pubs were not allowed to open while church was in session. Sunday laws were in full effect, not like today.
It reminds me of a story in Grouard in the early 1910s when a baseball game was interrupted by police, who shut down the game. Apparently, one of the churches complained. The Grouard News dare not report where the complaint came from, but it was suspected it was the Methodist Church, who was famous for holding four-hour services and more.
But back to England, where two boys “were made to do penance in the church for playing at trip during divine service by standing in the midst of the church with their trip sticks. . .”
I tried to find what a trip stick was in early English with no success. I hesitate to use my imagination!
Still, the good work of the church far exceeds misconduct. Yes, there are cults and disasters such as Jimmy Jones in Guyana and David Koresh in Waco, Texas, but give me the odds of the church doing more good than harm any day.

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