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Diary

22 March 2013

ISTOCK

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 ago.

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.

Heartfelt petition

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 concerned.

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.

Something understood

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 Jesus.

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 mercy.

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

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