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25 November 2016


Art of lying
WILTY, anyone? It stands for (I discovered) the BBC quiz show Would I Lie To You?, a sort of refurbished Call my Bluff; and, in the everlasting service of parish fund-raising, we had a go.

My team, Holy Cross, Uckfield, took on Uckfield FM to see who were the best liars. Our redoubtable team captain, Julia, claimed a broken arm through babysitting, putting a laxative in a chocolate mousse, and an invite to a Silvio Berlusconi “bunga bunga” party in the 1970s. (Mercifully, all lies.)

David, our splendid assistant priest and a former hospital chaplain, claimed to have given the last rites dressed as a Mexican bandit (false), and to have been given a standing ovation on a Spanish beach for persevering in mounting a recalcitrant lilo for an hour (surreal, but true).

From Uckfield FM we discovered that Alvin Stardust had led an impromptu rendition of “My coo ca choo” in an Uckfield café (true); another contestant purportedly dressed as a Womble (false); and another had taken valves, under cover of night and the watchful eyes of the police, to Radio Caroline (I am delighted to say, true).

And me? I said I discovered a monkey called Derek in my apple tree (a lie: as Church Times readers know, it was actually a nameless chicken). And my truth? At a party I was once mistaken for a novelty strip-a-gram.

I don’t know whether to be annoyed or pleased that Uckfield FM won, proving to be better liars than we were. We tweeted some photos, and the cherry on the cake was when the real BBC WILTY tweeted back “This might be one of our favourite things ever”. I suspect a reprise in next year’s fund-raising schedule.


Parish pooch
“WHERE is Sophie?” the parishioner I had come to visit asked, more interested (I’d say, understandably) in a visit from the Rectory dog than an encounter with the Rector. Luckily, she was in the car; so pastoral crisis averted.

People often ask me about my little Labrador with canine muscular dystrophy, and I am delighted to say that she is doing remarkably well. She is still on reduced doses of steroids, and, as she gets older, she’s getting stronger and more able to cope. The fact that she doesn’t know she is ill helps enormously.

I was worried about her coming to a new house: I was afraid that, used to lodgers around, she would be lonely; but she is thriving, largely owing to being taken to my new parishioners’ hearts. I bring her to services where she is wrangled by a variety of people. In two of the churches, she has her own dog bed, where she just curls up, until enticed out by a dog biscuit from her own biscuit boxes.

I think, frankly, the parish has taken to her more than they have to me — again, perfectly understandable. So much so that my first open house for the parish is being held to celebrate her fourth birthday (bearing in mind that at one time I thought she would be dead before she was two). There will be balloons, doggie treats, and, I believe, even a bone-shaped birthday cake. Maybe every clergy house should come supplied with an attendant clergy dog: a pastoral aid of the first order.


Back to basics
I HAVE now bounced round more than 100 shops in my new patch: “Hello, I’m Fr John, the new priest at Holy Cross.”

There have, as you can imagine, been a variety of reactions: the tattooist was terrified; some have been bemused and wary; but many have been intrigued and pleased.

I have made a variety of contacts, including local councillors and community workers, and I have coffee (and gin) invitations that I will soon take up. It is about building community, which is what I try to do. It is the first time that I have been the Vicar of somewhere, in the sense of a discrete entity; so far in my ministry, I have always been part of a bigger place, a suburb or estate within a larger conurbation, and I relish the sense of distinctiveness and the relationship that I can build up.

I feel that I can, finally, get back into a form of ministry I saw modelled when I was a child by Sydney Chapman, the Vicar of Walberton, the village in West Sussex where I grew up. Always out and about, involved in everything that happened in his patch, his was the first and best role-model I knew. It feels as if I’m touching base with what called me to the priesthood in the first place.

It still feels strange (and quite scary) starting up all over again (after 11 years in my last post), but Sophie and I are making inroads into our new lives. Wish us luck.


The Revd John Wall is Priest-in-Charge of the Uckfield Plurality in East Sussex.

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