"WELL, I've been under the doctor again with my legs." That was
the answer of the woman in front of me in the supermarket queue to
her friend's question, "How are you?" It made perfect sense to the
friend, and to me, and to the woman at the till.
But try translating it into, say, French: "J'etais encore
sous le médecin avec mes jambes," and it becomes ludicrous,
and even slightly indecent.
I only noted the exchange because I was in the process of
writing some daily notes for the Bible Reading Fellowship on
"frequently misunderstood passages of scripture". Often, the
"misunderstanding" is caused by unfamiliar words, or familiar words
that have changed their meaning; sometimes, you can recognise every
word, but still obscurity reigns.
I remember my amusement at the biblical advice on the door of
the stewards' room at a Billy Graham mission in the '60s: "Walk
wisely toward them that are without." It is a reasonable rendering
of the apostolic Greek into rather stilted Tudor English, but to
the contemporary reader it simply prompts the question "Without
WHEN Rob Gillion phoned to tell me that he had been elected
Bishop of Riverina, in New South Wales, I thought at first that he
was joking. I met him 20 years ago, when he was minister of an
Anglican church in Hong Kong and chaplain to the huge prison on
Hong Kong's largest outlying island, Lantau. His brother lived next
door to the rectory in Ducklington, and Rob and his wife, Janine,
turned up at church one Sunday on leave from the South China
To my surprise, an invitation followed to spend a week in the
Hong Kong Cathedral parish, including a visit to the prison.
My main memory of that event was speaking at a well-attended
communion service, at which the organ was beautifully played by a
baby-faced man in his forties. I asked Rob afterwards what he was
in for. "Oh," he replied, "he'sthe Suitcase Killer" - a murderer
whose gruesome crime involved, as you might guess, some butchery,
and a large item of luggage. The prisoners, incidentally, called
their chaplain "Father Robery", which seemed delightfully
Rob, currently vicar of a posh London parish, was formerly an
actor and mime artist, while Janine, too, has trodden the boards.
He is also a popular broadcaster: many years on Radio 2's Pause
for Thought are evidence of that.
I am sure the Aussies will take to my friend and his wife, as
long as they are not expecting an off-the-shelf English bishop.
Riverina might be in for a few surprises.
Anything except a suit
WHEN Sara asked me in 1994 to meet her and her partner, Dave, to
discuss marriage, I was excited. They lived over the road from the
rectory. She was an occasional churchgoer, and he a well-known
musician in a local rock band. And here they were, I assumed,
proposing to enter into the holy and blessed state of
Actually, as I quickly discovered,. I was there to talk Dave
into getting married. He was clear that he loved Sara (they even
had a baby to prove it), but he did not like weddings. We went
carefully through his objections, until it emerged that the deal
breaker was having to wear a suit. Dave's sartorial preferences
were at the radical end of casual.
As soon as I assured him that he could be married in whatever
clothes he liked (I think I mentioned swimwear, among other
possibilities) his objections vanished.
The service was wonderful, including the baptism of their baby
daughter, and church and faith have grown increasingly important to
them over the years. On their 20th anniversary, in August, they
have asked me to lead them in a service of renewal of vows. Sara
will wear a smart dress, I will don my robes, and Dave will dress
exactly as he did 20 years ago, in his usual stage gear.
Joining the Friends
ONE of my oldest friends died a couple of weeks ago. I had known
Gerard and his wife, Claire, since we were neighbours and members
of the same congregation 50 years ago. Our children, as they sprang
off, matched perfectly: two boys and a girl, and of the same
For many years, we shared family holidays and eventually both
acquired holiday homes within a couple of miles of each other in
Carmarthenshire. Gerard, a solicitor by profession, was in every
other respect unconventional: an adult who never really grew up,
conscientious but irredeemably optimistic, and wonderful with
After many years as a churchwarden, he took some of us by
surprise by deciding to spend his last years - a time when he had
an incurable illness - as a Quaker.
Sacrament of silence
WHEN I asked him what attracted him to the Quakers, he simply
said "Silence." His regular portion of it, lightly flavoured with
scripture, was the fuel of his day. It was as though he had found a
third sacrament. It's all there in words I have known most of my
life: "Be still and know that I am God," . . . and "the sound of
sheer silence" which finally arrested the attention of Elijah.
Twice in the Common Worship eucharist there is the
simple injunction "Silence is kept." Like many other clergy, I have
taken that to mean five or ten seconds (described to me as an
"eternity" by a radio producer). Let congregations in West Berks be
In tribute to my friend, the next time I preside at your church,
silence will be substantial. After all, Revelation tells us "there
was silence in heaven for about half an hour."
Canon David Winter is a retired cleric in the diocese of
Oxford, and a former head of religious broadcasting at the