AFTER nine months in Uckfield, I’ve finally been induced. Sorry, inducted, although it did rather feel like a long and difficult birth. I was put in here as Priest-in-Charge, with the promise that I’d be given the incumbency once some pastoral reorganisation was sorted. I hadn’t realised what a long and Byzantinely tortuous process it would be.
We are a plurality (which I must admit I hadn’t come across before), which means that three benefices are held together by one incumbent (shades of the good old medieval clerical sin of pluralism, but I won’t go there). As the patronage had lapsed, the rights of presentation had passed to Bishopthorpe Palace, in the north, for two of my parishes and to Lambeth Palace, in the south, for the third, all via the Palace at Chichester.
A long procession of palatial emails, letters, and phone calls ensued, culminating in two letters from the Archbishop of York and one from the Archbishop of Canterbury. I was rather touched by Archbishop Justin’s, which began “Dear John (if I may)”, which I thought was rather kind, but all in all it was an odd use of archiepiscopal time, I felt.
The bells doth toll
ANYWAY, the day came, and I was duly inducted as Rector of Isfield, Uckfield and Horsted Parva, which is as Trollopian a title, I feel, as one could wish for. I had thought it would just happen by default, but — rather embarrassingly — we had to go through the whole ritual of putting-in again, pretty much a repeat of my previous service, tying up the bishop and archdeacon for the evening, different only in having added door-rattling and bell-ringing, together with a spirited rendering of Parry’s I was Glad by the augmented choir.
The bells are interesting: traditionally, you toll the bell for however many years you intend to stay. I tried for ten, but it carried on for 12, which would bring me to retirement. Food for thought.
My favourite bit, though, was when the archdeacon led me to my stall and declared “By virtue of the authority given to me, I induct you into the real, actual and corporal possession of the Rectory and Parish Churches with all the rights, members, and appurtenances thereunto belonging.” I’m still none the wiser as to what my new “rights, members, and appurtenances” are, but am looking forward to finding out.
To the future
REFLECTING afterwards, I found it all unexpectedly moving. My putting-in nine months previously was exciting and great fun: so many supportive people were there — from my past, from family, university, theological college, and, gratifyingly, from all my previous parishes.
The second putting-in felt different: it was not about the past, but, attended by a good and rumbustious turnout from my current congregations, it felt reassuringly symbolic of my present and of the future to come. I finally felt I was at home.
In search of rights
I RECENTLY went to Southwark Cathedral for the 50th anniversary of the opening of St Christopher’s Hospice in Sydenham, south London. I’d nursed there in the mid-1980s, between university and my training as a priest, and it had been a hugely formative experience. I’d learnt about death and dying, yes, but also about resilience, hope, and living.
At the cathedral, we heard how it all started in 1948, when the formidable Dame Cicely Saunders, then a nurse, encountered a dying Polish man called David Tasma. “Above all,” she wrote later about this encounter, “[he] needed someone to listen, someone who believed it was important for him to end his life with a sense of personal worth.” Opening in 1967, this first hospice of the modern movement championed this “sense of personal worth” in the process of terminal care, combating what Rabbi Julia Neuberger in her address to us called “a communal silence based on a communal fear” over death and dying.
It all came together, though, when I found myself in the garden of Lambeth Palace drinking prosecco: not through any connection with my recent induction, but through a fund-raising tea party in aid of St Christopher’s, organised as part of the anniversary celebrations. As I walked through the glades of what must be the most splendid private garden in central London outside of Buckingham Palace, in light of our cordial correspondence, I wondered whether to knock on the Archbishop’s front door in search of a top-up, in pursuit of the rights, members, and appurtenances above mentioned. After a few moments of reflection, though, I thought maybe not. . .
The Revd John Wall is Rector of Isfield, Uckfield and Horsted Parva in Chichester diocese.