While minister’s sons can have many trials, temptations and challenges simply because of their dad’s Christian vocation, spare a thought too for the plight of the minister’s wife.
It is often said that behind every great man, is an even better woman. Such was the case about my mum, Elizabeth Coulter, who died in January 2020, aged 87.
While I was to learn the sheer brutality of being made an example off in front of people simply for being a Presbyterian minister’s son, the same could be true for mum.
When dad took over as Minister of Clough Presbyterian Church, outside Ballymena, in the heart of the north east Ulster Bible Belt in 1963, mum threw herself 100 per cent behind dad’s evangelical ministry in the congregation.
While the minister and his wife usually held a position of respect within the overtly Puritan community of that Bible Belt, there was always that one individual who could bring you down to earth socially with a very rapid bump.
Saturday mornings during my primary school era in the Sixties were great times as I could indulge myself for most of the day with my lifelong hobby - building model aircraft; a hobby which I still enjoy in my own sixties.
That particular Saturday morning was no different; my baby sister was having her mid-morning snooze and I was in my wonderful bedroom in that super Victorian Presbyterian Manse.
I had been building plastic model aircraft for a number of years and the high ceiling in my 19th century bedroom allowed space for me to display the completed planes on strings as if battling for control of the skies in dogfights.
But this tranquility was severely disrupted one Saturday morning with loud shouting from the Manse kitchen. Racing down the two staircases to get to the kitchen, I found the horrific sight of my mother in floods of tears and a well-known woman from the north east Ulster Bible Belt yelling into my mum’s face.
When I say well-known, I was later to learn it was not for her Christian compassion that she was well known, but for her short fuse and fiery temper.
Even when I handed my mum a hankie to wipe away her tears, the yelling continued unabated; the seemingly demon-possessed woman virtually screaming at mum was clearly oblivious to the small, skinny, specky-four-eyed minister’s son trying to comfort his very distressed mother.
After what seemed an eternity, but in reality only a matter of minutes, the demonic tempered woman left, leaving me to comfort mum as dad was on congregational duties.
It was only later that I learned the cause of this verbal demolition of my mother and the reason I decided to give that woman the moniker, Mrs Lucifer.
While those in the Catholic faith who join Holy Orders see themselves as Brides of Christ, if ever Satan needed an earthly bride, I would have to put this woman at the top of his ‘chosen few’.
Mrs Lucifer, it emerged, had a son who had committed the crime of dancing with Catholic girls at the famous Flamingo Ballroom in Ballymena.
Mrs Lucifier saw this dancing as an unpardonable sin, and had landed at the Presbyterian Manse demanding that my mother get her son immediately initiated into the Orange Order to stop this dancing with Catholics!
While my dad was a Deputy Imperial Grand Chaplain in both the Orange Order and Royal Black Institution, my mum never had any connection with the Women’s Orange Institution, so there was no way mum could give any answer about getting this lad into the Orange. But you try telling that to Mrs Lucifer!
Ironically, Mrs Lucifer’s son did eventually join the Protestant Loyal Orders - but, I’m reliably informed, that did not stop him dancing with Catholics!
I should stress that Mrs Lucifer is now dead. Both my parents and Mrs Lucifer’s son are also dead, so I remain the sole person who knows her identity! It is a secret I intend to take with me into eternity!
While I’m certain I know the whereabouts of Mrs Lucifer’s earthly remains, I’ve no idea as to the destination of her eternal soul.
However, if her spirit was to return to earth to challenge this moniker of ‘Mrs Lucifer’, I’m certain she would merely emphasise that she only had the best interests of her son’s social life at heart when she launched the verbal broadside against my mum. I’m not so certain her son would share that observation if his spirit would return!
I must also add that I viewed the son as a well-mannered young gentleman who never did me any harm either verbally or physically because I was the minister’s son. Indeed, in later years I recall him telling me how much he enjoyed my articles in a local weekly newspaper.
But as for Mrs Lucifer, if ever there was a league table of hot-tempered Puritanical bigots, I’m putting her as winning the title by miles!
In life, growing up as a Presbyterian minister’s son, I have learned that there were - and are - certain folk in that north east Ulster Bible Belt that it is best (unlike Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan) to pass by on the other side!
Given the state in which Mrs Lucifer left mum that Saturday morning in the Presbyterian Manse, you did not require a doctorate in communication studies to know that Mrs Lucifer was one such person I needed to avoid like the plague.
I certainly never wanted Mrs Lucifer to inflict on me a dose of the verbal diarrhoea which she had spewed over my mum. If ever I encountered Mrs Lucifer at religious events in that Bible Belt, I always made sure to ‘get offside’ as soon as possible.
Indeed, I must confess I also made sure her son was not counted among my chums, even though his personality was radically different to that of his mother. He was a quiet, gentle soul whose only ‘crime’ was to enjoy dancing with girls who happened to praise God at a different place of worship than his mother.
But the practical reality was that to have Mrs Lucifer’s son included among my chums was inviting trouble. I certainly learned some very bitter lessons from witnessing the verbal tongue-lashing unleashed on my mum in the Presbyterian Manse.
Firstly, the lot and life of a minister’s wife can be just as difficult as that of her clerical husband’s, but secondly - and perhaps more importantly as a minister’s son - there are always people in the north east Ulster Bible Belt that you must always - and I mean always - give a very wide berth to socially.
In later life, when I became a born again Christian, Mrs Lucifer’s son would occasionally accompany us on our summer time door-to-door evangelism, known affectionally as ‘open air outreach’.
But like the horror movie, Christine, about the demon-possessed car which hunted its victims, you would see Mrs Lucifer’s car down the street with her at the wheel stalking her boy to ensure he wasn’t mixing with any of those Catholic lassies he had been dancing with!
Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Listen to commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 10.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online.