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16 March 2011

by John Wall

Beer and thuribles

I went to Canon Beaumont Lauder Brandie’s retire­ment do at St Martin’s, Brigh­ton, a couple of weeks ago — and a splendid do it was, too. Many know Canon Beau from his Walsingham activities (they have named an arch after him there), or from his SSC and Forward in Faith endeavours (he was one of the main organisers of the big SSC rally at the Albert Hall); so the place was packed.

Seven bishops (I think) sat in state, about 100 robed clergy were in the sanctuary, and as many again swelled the congregation of some 800. There was much incense (cart­wheels with the thuribles were de rigueur), much unobtrusive shim­my­ing by the teams of servers and taperers, and much singing from the massed children’s choir.

I especially enjoyed the post-do beer, which had been specially brewed for the occasion by a local (ecclesiastical) micro-brewery and named “The Last Canon”.

Rousing farewell

THE last time I had been to a parish priest’s farewell like this was some 20 years ago, for the saintly Canon Derek Allen of Eastbourne, a former Principal of St Stephen’s House, Oxford, and at one time spiritual director for half the clergy in the diocese of Chichester.

At that event, the incumbent, sadly, was in a box in the chancel, whereas, at this one, Canon Beau was very much alive.

He presided and preached with the decisiveness and punchy humour which have been his trademarks for his past 33 years of incumbency. It all rather felt like the passing of an age.

Message from the King

EQUALLY fun but very different was the deanery clergy farewell dinner for Canon Beau a few days earlier in an Italian restaurant in central Brighton: almost all of us went, including (it should be noted) one of the three women priests in the deanery; another could not come only because it clashed with a PCC meeting, but she sent fond greetings.

Canon Beau entertained us with tales of parish traumas, my favourite of which was his account of being woken up in the early hours of the morning, and rushing out with his cassock over his pyjamas to stop one of his Sea Scouts from lobbing a Molotov cocktail through the win­dow of a very ex-girlfriend.

The evening was topped off with the appearance of a good Elvis impersonator, who regaled us (the Area Dean swore blind it was a coin­cidence, but I am not convinced) with the following song:

We’re caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much baby. . .
We can’t go on together
With suspicious minds
And we can’t build our dreams
On suspicious minds.

We’re caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much baby. . .
We can’t go on together
With suspicious minds
And we can’t build our dreams
On suspicious minds.

I am suggesting it as the new Brighton deanery theme-song.

Brazen with brazils

I GAVE out free popcorn to the congregation a month or so ago: the Gospel had been about salt losing its savour; so I gave out plain, sweet, and ready-salted as a visual aid to make the point. One member of our Junior Church went home saying it was the best morning in church he had endured (sorry, I mean en­joyed); but, at coffee afterwards, Ernie, a former bricky now in his 80s and a stalwart of the congregation, wandered over to me.

“’Ere, Father John,” he said, “there’s no chance of you slipping a chocolate brazil into your next sermon, is there?”

The next Sunday, I preached a more downbeat sermon about our habit­ual sinfulness and corporate help­lessness at extracting ourselves from the mess we are in: halfway through, when people were glazing over, I got their attention back and perked them up no end by duly giving out milk-chocolate brazil nuts.

I use the same principle as a fellow curate of mine, who, finding himself bored rigid halfway through a ser­mon he himself was preaching, broke off, told a completely unre­lated joke, then carried on from where he had stopped, having re­gained the congregation’s attention — and his own.

Alas, Ernie’s wife was ill, and they were not there. His distress at learn­ing of the loss of his chocolate brazil nut was almost heartbreaking.

Last Sunday the Gospel was about the wise man who built his house on rock; so we built a 12-foot model of our church, St Andrew’s, out of banana and other boxes.

I had scattered the 30 or so build­ing blocks around the church and hidden a fun-size Mars bar under each: the joy of Junior Church and our Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Associa­tion was unconfined. But, under one, I had placed a whole box of choco­late brazils, just for Ernie. His joy was unconfined, too.

Brazen bribery with sweets and chocolates: I find that, in congre­gations, it works every time.

The Revd John Wall is Team Rector in the Moulsecoomb Team Ministry in Brighton.

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