Celebration of success
MOST of the time, I live a fairly quiet life. As a middle-aged team rector, I spend most of my days cheerfully running round in small circles with varying degrees of desperation, dealing with diocesan strategy, ministerial vision, management issues, away days, budgets, boiler replacements, leaky roofs, dodgy guttering, work references, community and individual crises, and, now and then, even a bit of pastoral care.
It is lovely to be given the chance to do something completely different, and so it was with alacrity that I accepted an invitation to be a guest at the University of Brighton’s graduation ceremonies at the Dome, in central Brighton. Once part of the Prince Regent’s stable complex, where horses could be exercised in inclement weather, the Dome is now an opulent auditorium, furnished in red plush and 1930s Art Deco splendour.
I found myself sitting, slightly self-consciously, in the VIP seats in the equivalent of the Dress Circle. I had forgotten that one of my honorary godchildren was graduating that day with a First in Aeronautical Engineering (well done, James), and so was able to applaud, take photos, and make whooping noises with the rest of the audience.
Whenever my godchildren go to university, I always send them a crate of wine to wish them well and help launch them (following what I would have liked a godparent to do for me). It was good to be able to be part of his success at his university end time.
THE most intriguing bit, though, was meeting the honorary graduates at drinks and lunch between ceremonies. There were two local stalwarts who had founded Stomp, the phenomenal percussion dance-group that has triumphed all over the world. There was Grace Robertson, the photographer from the 1940s and ’50s Picture Post, who captured a generation at play with a cool but hugely affectionate eye.
Then there was the wonderful artist Alison Lapper, the subject of a marble sculpture on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, where she was proudly depicted limbless, naked, and pregnant. She is a local resident, and I hope that she will be coming to show our Boys’ Brigade and Girls’ Association how to paint using their mouths.
But what resonated most with me was chatting to the father of one of the honorary graduates, and discovering that he was a lyricist who had once written songs for Elvis Presley.
As I walked away afterwards to get the bus home to my humdrum existence, I felt that I had had a brush with history.
Wonders of creation
I HAVE just come back from a nice time in Walsingham. Nothing unusual in that, you might well say, for a card-carrying Anglo-Catholic cleric; but, owing to problems getting cover in the summer months, it was the first time for some four years that I had been able to join the 25 or so pilgrims who go annually from our parish.
What’s more, I managed to get up a day early, and so had 24 hours by myself for the first time in about 14 years, since the Refectory opened in 2001.
Walsingham is, for many of us, one of those important reference points, a place we keep coming back to for taking stock and remembering. The facilities (like the refectory) change, evolve, and improve as the years go by, but the Holy House and the Shrine itself remain reassuringly the same. For me, it is a place full of ghosts.
I first went there as an ordinand in my twenties, more than 30 years ago, and, as I sat by myself with a beer and a packet of cheese-and-onion in the Bull, the pub by the gates, I remembered the people I had first gone with: some are dead, a number are no longer in communion with us, and others have vanished into that strange oblivion beyond the reach even of Crockford’s Clerical Directory. I raised a solitary pint to them.
But it was while walking back from the Slipper Chapel on a glorious summer afternoon that I was given a new memory to add to the old.
Having followed for a little while the line of the vanished railway track lost to Dr Beeching’s axe in the 1960s, and now a grass-covered path, I sat for a while on a bench in the sunshine. I suddenly realised I was not alone. Lying motionless beside me, basking in the unaccustomed warmth, were two sparkling green lizards.
I was taken back almost 50 years, to when, as a child on holiday in the south of France, I had discovered a pair of lizards on a stone by a stream, and, entranced by them, had sat and gazed. Now, as then, I looked at them, and they looked at me.
The middle-aged Team Rector of a dodgy parish, embroiled in the endless round of strategy and structure, boilers and buildings, management and understated mayhem, I was (thanks to Our Lady of Walsingham and Dr Beeching) taken back again to being a seven-year-old, full of curious wonder at the new world around me.
The Revd John Wall is Team Rector in the Moulsecoomb Team Ministry in Brighton.