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23 January 2012

by David Winter

Cast your bread

FIFTY-SIX years ago, I taught RE to what was then called a fifth-year class at a secondary school in Hertfordshire. I was really their English teacher, but, if anyone showed the slightest sign of interest in religion, sheer necessity (and the reluctance of colleagues) meant that you were likely to get a few RE lessons slipped into your timetable.

I quite enjoyed it. They were a lively class, all taking O levels in both RE and English, although they were among the majority of youngsters at the time who had “failed” the 11-plus.

Among them was a boy called Bill, and, last month, greatly to my surprise, I had an email from him. At the age of 70, he and his wife were to be confirmed. His vicar had asked the candidates to write a simple account of their journeys to faith, and, when Bill read out his story, it was suggested that I might be interested to see it. The vicar even provided my email address (good old Crockford).

Flatteringly, Bill wrote: “David really got us kids interested in religion by his charisma, humour, and evangelistic style of teaching.” He recalled that some of the class were confirmed before leaving school, but he settled for a less committed pilgrimage: he worked with the Scout movement, and only occasionally ventured to church.

When he and his wife, Hazel, moved to their present home in Northampton eight years ago, however, their daughter introduced them to the parish church. “The spiritual warmth and friendship we have found in St Benedict’s has led to us being confirmed as Christians today,” he wrote.

There it is. One sows, another reaps. I throw a bit of the bread of life on the water, but it takes a living Christian community years later to bring it home.

Five go to cricket

IN MY previous diary column (25 November), I wrote about the day when I was at Lord’s and a doodle­bug crossed the ground, exploding near by. I said that it happened in 1945, but (as one retired bishop pointed out), as the last V1 rocket was launched by the Germans in March 1945, it would have had to travel incredibly slowly to arrive over Lord’s during the cricket season. It was, in fact, the previous summer.

What surprised me, however, was that I heard from no fewer than five readers of the Church Times who were also there on that Saturday afternoon. One of them kindly pro­vided a photocopy of a press ac­count, which revealed that there were 3200 spectators present.

Given that this was 67 years ago, one must assume that Father Time has called “stumps” on most of them; so the fact that five wartime teen­agers who are now Church Times readers are among the survivors is more than just statistically interest­ing.

Bells on Sunday

OUR bell-ringers here in Thatcham have recently posted a remarkable record. They rang their 1000th peal of bells, and are believed to be only the fifth tower in the country to have done it.

I am sure that their achievement will have been recorded in The Ringing World, the bell-ringers’ somewhat arcane journal. If so, I hope the editor will at last forgive the grievous offence for which the paper demon­ised me back in the 1980s.

As head of religious broadcasting at the BBC, I cut Bells on Sunday on Radio 4 from five minutes to three. This was in response to countless complaints from listeners who found five solid minutes of Grandsire Doubles at a quarter to eight on a sabbath morning more than they could stand.

I managed, with some difficulty, to protect three minutes, but got little credit for that. How much do church bells get now, I wonder?

Tuning my harp

I SEEM to be taking a lot of funerals, recently. Those of us whose own obsequies are in the pending tray can welcome the opportunity to tune our harps for the celestial concert.

Funerals require the minister to be part of an intimate and mysterious event, both looking back and letting go. In that process, they unveil the story of a life, and I confess that I have always found other people’s lives full of fascination.

Among my recent funerals was that of a man who left school at 16, got a position as junior clerk at the local branch of Barclays Bank, and, after an enforced interruption to fly Halifax bombers in the war, ended up 40 years later as head of the bank’s operations in Wales. A committed churchman, needless to say he had also spent 50 years as a church treasurer, lucky man.

Known only to God

IT IS well past Twelfth Night, and the question of Christmas cards must be addressed. There are perhaps £200-worth of them in a drawer, awaiting their fate. It seems a crime against friendship to throw them away. Not only that, but there is the other, smaller pile of unidentifiable cards: “Love, Sue”; “Have a good one, Henry”; “Christmas blessings, Dorothy.” Who are they, these un­recognised signatures? I am reluctant to throw them away in their lonely anonymity.

Many years ago, I stayed in Liverpool with the late David and Grace Sheppard. After breakfast, we paused for prayer. Grace delved in a box to produce two cards from the previous Christmas. They opened them, spoke briefly about the senders, and then we prayed for them. It struck me as a really positive way to affirm the value of a relation­ship, however distant or nominal.

Of course, such a practice would also solve my dilemma about the unidentified cards. I might not know who on earth Sue, Henry, and Dorothy are, but God certainly does.

Canon David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of Oxford, and a former head of religious broadcasting at the BBC.

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