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Diary: John Wall

26 May 2017

But not forgotten

“IT IS Pat’s birthday today! Wish her all the best!” Facebook chirped one morning a couple of days ago, inviting me to write on her timeline.

While my father was alive (he was almost 99 when he died), Pat was a great friend to him, for which I’ll always be grateful. I remember once realising that we had missed her birthday — a significant one.

“I’m so sorry,” I told her. “We hadn’t twigged it was your 50th.” She laughed.

“Actually, it was my 60th.”

You would never have guessed: she had been an air hostess for British Airways for their helicopter fleet, and had never lost that youth­ful professional gloss. In her time, she had dealt with a whole range of celebrities, including, I re­­member her telling me, a breezy brush with the Beatles in their prime.

And she has been dead for two years. Having developed dementia, her daughter took her home to the United States, where she died peace­fully with her family.


Oblivious to change

I HAVE many old friends who still have this strange twilight afterlife on social media, and I am not sure what to feel about it, especially as I’m a priest, and have to manage the rite of passage between life and death. On one hand, I am sure that some people find it a comfort, a reminder of the presence in their lives of those who have gone; and yet, for me, this cheery oblivious­ness of absence jars rather.

It is, I gather, an increasing prob­lem: often, no one knows the pass­­words or security information to shut down such sites. It reminds me of the wonderful “Silence in the library” episodes of Doctor Who, where the character of Professor River Song dies and yet is “saved” to a computer, and so carries on a shady afterlife until snuffed out a few series later. A wonderful idea for sci­­ence fiction, but less so for real life. Or death.

And so these departed friends will keep popping up with invita­tions to write on their Timeline. With wistful regret, I will decline.


Jesus with tats

YOU wouldn’t argue with Simon. Six foot three tall (he says he used to be six foot four, but has shrunk a bit), he is shaven-headed, and has more than one tattoo. And, on Good Friday, he played Jesus in our dramatisation of the Passion.

Next to Holy Cross, Uckfield, is the Malt House, a unit run by the wonderful Kenwood Trust, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation charity with a strong Christian ethos, which has, since 1967, cared for men and women on the edge, and which now supports and transforms the lives of some 200 people a year.

The buildings of the Malt House nestle immediately under the tower of Holy Cross, like chicks round a mother hen. Simon is one of seven men who live there, in the second stage of rehab, and he, like them, often joins in our community’s life, for midweek services, helping with furniture-moving and maintenance, or just sitting in peace and quiet in the church during the day. We
value them hugely.

This last Good Friday, we enacted Gethsemane, Peter’s denial, and Jesus’s trial in their beaut­iful gardens. And, in­­­deed, Simon was Jesus.


Saving Simon

A FEW days ago, I was chatting with Simon after one of our won­der­ful Men’s Breakfasts (full fry-up, complete with black pudding; so I was replete and happy), before we were going to throw some pews around, and he said: “D’you know, 15 months ago, if I’d been seen going past a church, a police car would have been there a few minutes later making sure I wasn’t up to no good? Now I’m welcomed as part of the church community.

“If someone had told me then I’d be playing Jesus in a church play, I’d have told them they were bonkers.”


Family member

IT HAD started when he had been given the stark choice between prison and rehab, and he had reluct­antly chosen the latter. And, to his surprise, he had come to faith. He is one of the most power­ful examples of the trans­forming power of faith which I have ever witnessed.

He is moving on in the next few days to a stage-three unit, where he will be supported but pretty much independent. We will miss him. We mean to keep in contact, because that is what families do — and that is what Simon is: part of our family.

It shows that, through God’s love and providence, hope, and the potential of new life, are always there.


The Revd John Wall is Priest-in-Charge of the Uckfield Plurality, in the diocese of Chichester.

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