OUR Team Ministry here in Thatcham recently held a mission — but this was a mission with a difference. At the suggestion of our Bishop, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, we embarked on an ambitious project to involve the town’s community, as far as we could, in every aspect of the event.
During long months of planning, “Thatcham Connect”, as it was called, involved building bridges — or using existing links — to clubs and societies representing different aspects of the life of the community.
In the end, we had ten days of wonderfully varied content, including dads’ and kids’ football, a cycling event, a life-drawing session with the art club (male models provided by church members), a joint evening with a poetry group, cooking, gardening, a quiz night for the young, a photographic exhibition, and a magnificent concert put on by members of the church and the town’s amateur dramatic society.
The events brought together people who shared interests, but had never thought of the church as the place where they could be celebrated.
On the final Sunday, Bishop Cottrell came to preach at a service of celebration and dedication. The church was packed, scores of people came forward to pin leaves on a tree expressing their response to the week, and the Bishop both preached and — touchingly — sat on the floor and talked to the children.
I do not think it is a coincidence that, since then, congregations have noticeably grown (despite the ice age at the start of the year). I thought I knew quite a bit about evangelism, but this was a new approach that actually worked. And, simply as a participant, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The bright side
EACH year, in December, an annually ageing group of men and women gather at the Savile Club in Mayfair for lunch. The group, identified simply as “Former Heads of Radio”, is in fact composed of those of us still alive who were heads of department in BBC radio in the 1980s.
Sadly, the Grim Reaper ensures that the numbers go down year by year. This time, the conspicuous absentee at the table was Bobby Jaye, who was Head of Light Entertainment and a most convivial colleague during those years.
His funeral service, in St Nicholas’s, Chislehurst, was notable for his idiosyncratic choice of hymns. Bobby had served as an officer in the Royal Tank Regiment during the Second World War, and, during his time at the BBC, had worked on programmes such as The Goon Show, The Ken Dodd Show, Twenty Questions, Dad’s Army, and Yes, Minister.
I think one can trace the influences in his choices: “All things bright and beautiful”, “Onward, Christian soldiers”, and “Abide with me”. But, as the last note of that final hymn died away, the strains of “Always look on the bright side of life” filled the church, which probably said as much about the man we knew as Head of Jokes as anything else.
Everybody at the BBC had a story about Bobby. My abiding memory was of his dreadful efforts at parking his large car in the cramped Corporation car park underneath Henry Wood House. It was said at his retirement party that every pillar in that place bore a permanent mark of his passing.
MY DUTY and joy on Christmas morning was to take two services in the famous Lambourn “valley of the race-horse”. The snow having fallen “snow on snow” (as the carol helpfully explains), I was glad to have a delightful chauffeuse, a churchwarden who had offered to collect me and drive me home afterwards. I suspect this was because (Diary, 13 November) I was stopped and breathalysed by the police on my previous visit there.
As she had been at her church preparing things from about seven in the morning, it was a safe assumption that she was stone-cold sober: as St Peter convincingly argued, you cannot possibly be drunk before nine o’clock in the morning (Acts 2.15). Despite her sobriety, she slid into a ditch on the way to my house and had to be rescued by her husband; so we were a little late.
That apart, it was a memorable Christmas morning, with two beautiful churches well filled, despite the weather. There were many families with children, of course, but there were also many senior citizens, who, remembering harsh winters of the distant past, were not going to let a few inches of the white stuff keep them from church.
Snows of yesteryear
TALKING of snow, my brother phoned to remind me of our shared experience during childhood years spent in a remote village in the Welsh hills. Once, the village was completely cut off for more than a week, and basic foodstuffs had to be dragged by men over the snowy fields on sledges; and one morning, our grandfather opened the front door to be confronted with a solid wall of snow right up to the lintel.
Now those were winters worth calling winters, but I don’t remember their making the news. Of course, there were other things to worry about in 1941.
The response is ‘Oi!’
HEARD recently on The Weakest Link: Ann Robinson: Every ten years, Anglican bishops are gathered by the Archbishop of Canterbury for the Lambeth what?
Middle-aged female contestant: Walk?
Canon David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of Oxford, and a former head of religious broadcasting at the BBC.