Pop stars welcome
ON AN early-summer evening in 1965, I was taking evening prayer
in St Paul's, Finchley. At that time, our evening turnout consisted
mostly of members of the youth group. There was one young person
present, however, who did not entirely match the rest of the
congregation. She had long, flowing hair; she was wearing a fur
coat; and she sang confidently and strongly.
Talking to her afterwards, she told me that she was visiting our
church because morning services were not much use to her, as she
usually worked late on Saturdays. She had heard that Cliff Richard
worshipped with us, and thought that there might be a welcome for
people who combined a Christian faith with the dubious
respectability of a career in the pop-music business.
By now, a small group had gathered, as we established that she
was Cindy Kent, the lead singer of the pop-folk group The Settlers,
who were just making a name for themselves on the radio.
Cindy and The Settlers went from strength to strength
professionally over the next ten years or so. They released records
such as "The Lightning Tree"; gave live performances at the Queen
Elizabeth Hall, and Talk of the Town; and appeared on hundreds of
television programmes, including half-a-dozen guest spots on
The Morecambe and Wise Show.
The band also toured with Cliff (how many pop-music assignments
have been forged in church, I wonder?), and featured in an ITV
series with him, Life With Johnny.
A winding road
EVENTUALLY, the group disbanded and pursued separate careers -
Cindy as a successful radio presenter (Capital Radio, Radio 2, and,
later, Premier Christian Radio). She trained for ordination six
years ago, and is now Priest-in-Charge of a parish in Whetstone,
just a few miles from the church she visited on that evening long
Last month, the surviving Settlers met at her vicarage for a
50th-anniversary party. One, Mike Jones, died a few years ago of
cancer. The others, John Fyffe and Geoff Srodzinski, along with a
few long-term friends and fans, shared the occasion.
It is a long and strange journey for a teenage girl from
Oldbury, by way of show business to priesthood, but the passing
years have not dimmed that youthful confidence, or dulled that
distinctive voice. You should hear her singing the eucharist.
AS PART of my Lenten observance, I have been saying the Litany
each day - greatly to my profit, I might add. There is one
petition, however, that causes me a problem. It is the one where we
ask God to forgive our "enemies, persecutors, and slanderers", and
to "turn their hearts".
That is all very charitable, but, however hard I try to conjure
some up, I do not seem to have any enemies, persecutors, or
slanderers. Indeed, my life seems to suffer from a severe shortage
of slander and persecution, which I suspect may be because I am a
bit of a wimp where taking to the spiritual barricades is
I have, however, toyed with the idea of a slight amendment to
the petition, because I desperately need to pray for forgiveness
for cold callers on the telephone; broadcasters who treat
"criteria" as a singular word; and people in front of me in the
supermarket queue who suddenly remember that they need a can of
baked beans, just as they reach the till.
A touch of heart-turning in those respects would be a blessing
all round, I feel.
AT THE end of a service recently, the man sitting next to me
asked whether I thought a hymn that we had just sung was
"anti-Semitic". It was based on the traditional Reproaches, and I
had to admit that, taken at face value, it did indeed sound as if
the Jewish race were being held responsible for the suffering of
We wandered off towards the coffee, discussing it, only to be
challenged about another hymn we had sung that morning, not long
before the intercessions: "It's me, O Lord, standing in the need of
prayer." It was quite clear: it was not my sister, my brother, or
my neighbour - it was just me who needed prayer. And then we went
ahead and prayed for the lot of them.
It happened the previous week, too, when someone asked me what
on earth "consubstantial" meant. They were not terribly impressed
when I said that it had taken several hundred years, a great number
of excommunications, and a huge schism in the Church to prove that
it was, well, complicated. I went home wondering why Anglicans are
suddenly expecting to understand what they sing.
O happy fault!
TWENTY-ONE years ago, during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land from
our Cotswold parish, we had a delightful tea in the gardens of the
Anglican cathedral in Jerusalem. Several of my parishioners -
ardent horticulturalists - were very taken with the trees, bushes,
and flowers growing there. A notice warned visitors not to take
cuttings, however, and I dutifully drew their attention to it.
Over the next few years, when visiting the homes and gardens of
several of our party, I observed various exotic plants that were
not normally available in our local garden centre. I challenged one
gardener, a retired farmer, about their provenance. "What the eye
doesn't see, the heart doesn't grieve over," was his response.
All the miscreants are now beyond earthly judgement; so let me
just say that I am sure that their skilled and gentle hands did no
harm to the cathedral flora, while the beauty of that faraway plot
now lives on in several English village gardens. Lord, have
Canon Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of Oxford,
and a former head of religious broadcasting at the BBC.