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Retrospect of a long life

23 May 2014

Ted Harrison would have liked more of that listening ear

Early Anglican: Cyril Grant, aged eight, as a choirboy at St Paul's, Margate. He later joined the Congregationalist ministry. From his book

Early Anglican: Cyril Grant, aged eight, as a choirboy at St Paul's, Margate. He later joined the Congregationalist ministry. From his book

A Good Samaritan: The autobiography of the Reverend Cyril Handel Grant
Cyril Handel Grant
SilverWood Books £15.99
Church Times Bookshop £14.40 (Use code CT193 )

CYRIL HANDEL GRANT is a Free Church minister who, in his nineties, has written an account of his life and work. He was the founder of the Samaritans in Bristol, and for 50 years worked for the organisation as a volunteer. His dedicated service was recognised with an MBE.

After 70 years as a preacher and public speaker, Grant uses words masterfully. Reading his memoirs is like listening to an experienced and gifted lecturer-cum-storyteller who never loses the attention of his audience. He studied theology in the United States, and his descriptions of that country after the Second World War are as vivid as a newsreel, and provide a fascinating social record of the long-gone age of lengthy sea voyages and trans-continental rail journeys. He contrasts the affluence he discovered across the Atlantic with the austerity he had known in Europe, reliving his astonishment at discovering such plenty.

Reminiscences are important. They help to ensure that the lessons of long and faithful lives are not lost. Yet Cyril Grant's account of his life is uneven. His recollections of his journeys criss-crossing the US as a young man are extensively recorded. His years as the minister of a challenging Congregationalist chapel in Rotherham, and the successes and failures he encountered, are given less space, but provide some useful insights into urban ministry. He writes barely five pages, however, about his 50 years with the Samaritans. It would surely have been possible, even within the limits of confidentiality, to deal more fully with that aspect of his life. His experience was much valued, as attested to by a tribute, quoted in the book, from one of his Samaritan colleagues; and yet he shares almost none of this experience with his readers. Had he done so, his book might have been an invaluable resource for new volunteers, and provided important encouragement to Samaritans of long standing.

Ted Harrison is a former BBC religious-affairs correspondent.

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