SOMETIMES you really need a lavatory. Sometimes you really need a vicarage.
And sometimes you really need both.
I had been invited to lead a retreat day. I travelled up from London on the
Friday night, a three-hour journey, arriving in Kidderminster around 8 p.m.
I was to be met by the vicar, who would whisk me in his car towards the
warmth of home. Wonderful! For it was a night most chill, and sleety rain was
beginning to fall. No doubt he'd be here soon.
One cold hour and a half later, however, I was considering my position. No
one had come. The vicar had my number in case of problems, and the fact that he
had not rung seemed to indicate that all was going well at his end, wherever
that was. Had I got the wrong weekend? My blue hands coaxed life into my mobile
phone, but the vicarage was ex-directory, and the church phone went
And then another thought. Had I been completely Kidderminstered? Set up by
some malcontent from my past, laughing now in their hot chocolate? Revenge is
best served cold, and rain is just a cruel bonus.
Assured of a lift, I didn't even know my destination. But re-reading old
emails in the drizzly neon light, Sherlock Parke saw the name Bewdley, and a St
Anne's Church mentioned. Enough. I hailed a taxi. Take me to Bewdley! The
vicarage would be next to the church.
Not so. Lovely St Anne's stood proud but alone, and, around it, Bewdley
served takeaways and pints to the young. Two drunks sent me down a long lane,
where the bloke knew for certain the vicarage was. It was a fine building, so
Jane Austen, and in it were two helpful people. But it was not the vicarage. It
was the Old Rectory, where former incumbents had lived, but not this one. And
just 50 yards from where Stanley Baldwin was born.
I knocked on more doors, many more. It's called "cold calling". Vicarage
awareness was pretty good. Most knew the vague direction, but it was late now
and, worryingly, I seemed to be heading into the hills, which I knew boasted
more covens than any other part of Britain. I'm not down on witches. I just didn
't need them at this particular moment.
Instead, I needed a vicarage, which in the end, dear reader, I wonderfully
found - and it came with a glass of red wine. My inviting vicar was still
somewhere in the station car park, dreaming of African sunsets.
But for me, it was of course, the only arrival possible, a severe but
marvellous mercy. For retreat-givers are best when utterly broken by life. And
obviously I hadn't been quite broken enough.