I FIND encounters over coffee after church strangely
enlightening. Two weeks ago, a senior lady approached me. "You've
written a book on Revelation," she said; "so you ought to be able
to tell me. What does 666 mean?"
"The Beast," I replied. "Satan. The antichrist."
Her reaction to my reply surprised me. Her face lit up with a
gloriously satisfied smile. "Oh good," she said. "My neighbour's
just bought an old car, and its number is 666. I can't stand the
man. I shall have a laugh to myself every time I see it."
She wandered off with her coffee, muttering "The Beast, Satan,
the antichrist . . ." as though she feared she might forget.
I HAVE been covering services fairly regularly in a church
dedicated (as so many are) to St Mary the Virgin. I was down to
preside at the patronal festival on 17 August, and learnt that this
included blessing the adjoining Ladywell. That was, I suppose, a
tad outside my comfort zone, but it sounded fun.
Come the hour, we gathered outside the church in bright sunshine
to follow the thurifer on the 200-yard walk across the churchyard
to the well. The little service went smoothly, ending with what I
thought was a rather elegant paean of praise to the Almighty for
the precious gift of water, poured so graciously upon us from
As I spoke, a dark cloud that had crept up unnoticed above the
thick trees burst upon us. We were deluged with the gifts of the
heavens as we broke ranks and fled in a motley mob for the shelter
of the church. My alb took 36 hours in the airing cupboard to dry
MANY of us are familiar with "chuggers" - charity muggers - who
waylay you in the high street or on your doorstep, and try to
persuade you to set up a direct debit for a charity. I have
recently had several brushes with them, including a doorstep
encounter (the Red Cross), and one with a young woman outside
Waitrose (a children's cancer charity). She told me that many
people had offered her money, but she was not allowed to accept it.
Her brief was direct debits.
I noted her Welsh accent (she was far from home), and asked how
many people had signed up that day. "Not one," she said - and this
was tea-time. I'm a bit of a softie, and there was some Celtic
kinship involved; so I filled in the bank details, and got a big
hug as a reward.
THE chuggers have also taken to the phones. What disappoints me,
perhaps unreasonably, is that respected Christian charities and
mission societies have also begun to employ them.
I was cold-called by a man who urged me to take out a monthly
direct debit for a well-known Anglican mission. I pointed out that
I had supported the society for more than 50 years, recently by an
annual gift through the Charities Aid Foundation. I thought that
this would satisfy him, but it didn't. He still urged me to take
out a direct debit, even if it were for less than my annual
That aroused my suspicions, later confirmed, that he was not
working for the mission, but for a fund-raising firm that charges a
fee in return for recruiting new direct debits. He was not
interested in the cause for which I have prayed for two-thirds of a
lifetime, but in making another entry on his score-sheet.
Prompted by the Holy Spirit, or by compassion, or arm-twisted by
a chugger? What would Hudson Taylor have made of it?
SIXTY-FOUR years ago, I enrolled as an undergraduate at King's
College, London, the first in my family to enjoy a university
education. In a fortnight's time, my granddaughter does exactly the
same thing and to read the same subject, English.
I am sure that much has changed, but the chapel is still at the
heart of the college, and the Thames still flows past, now
overlooked by the comfortable Students' Union bar. At third-hand, I
can share the mixture of expectation, excitement, and apprehension.
The biggest difference, I suppose, is that I got a princely grant
of £90 a term. She, on the other hand, gets a massive student loan.
THE death of James Alexander Gordon, who had read the football
results on BBC Radio's Sports Report for more than 40
years, was front-page news last month. Once again, the obituary
pages revealed the ever-smiling face of an old colleague and
friend. He was always full of wonderful stories of the joys and
perils of his trade.
He told me once of a night when he was reading the midnight
news. Sitting in the newsreader's little studio, he began to get
anxious when the bulletin had not arrived, with barely a minute to
go. At last, the door burst open and a sub came in, waving the
"Quick, give it to me," James shouted.
"Now then," the sub said, "ask me nicely." (He had, it seemed,
been at the refreshments.)
For a moment, they grappled for the precious pages. James got
them, and sat down to start reading just as the red light came on -
at which the sub pulled out a lighter and set fire to the bottom of
the script. James picked up the newsreaders' statutory glass of
water, and extinguished the flames, but could not save the weather
forecast at the bottom.
When he got to it, he just said: "Tomorrow's weather's going to
be much like today's," and, happily, it was.
Canon David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of
Oxford, and a former head of religious broadcasting at the