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Diary

06 June 2014

ISTOCK

Communication failure

"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 what?"
 

Joy unconfined

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 Sea.

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 innocent.

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 matrimony.

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 ages.

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 children.

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 warned.

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 BBC.

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