Diary: David Winter

08 September 2017

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Keys of the Kingdom

WHEN my daughter was instituted to her first incumbency — six rural parishes in Berkshire — I recall with some amusement the spectacle of six sets of churchwardens loading her with six sets of church keys. “Well, it’s yours now, sister,” the ceremony seemed to say.

As I attended her leaving service, seven years later, I was equally amused that she had decided to reverse the ritual. This time, the churchwardens lined up, and, one by one, they got their keys back. “Over to you, now,” that seemed to say, at least for the impending vacancy.

It was a great leaving service, as they often are. There were 200 communicants, as well as children and others who didn’t receive — and that from six small villages. It reminded me of what I was once advised: “If you want to see the church full, leave.”

I think there is something about fond farewells that appeals to us (quite apart from those who are secretly, or even openly, glad to see us go, for all those obscure churchy reasons often aired in the “Out of the Question” column). Judging by the tears and hugs, I don’t think that there were many of them present on this occasion.

 

Family on the move

THAT was one big family occasion. The other was my granddaughter’s graduation from King’s College, London, a grand occasion made more entertaining by the inclusion of the installation of the Revd Richard Coles as a Fellow of the college.

He was presented by the Dean, the Revd Professor Richard Burridge, who, in outlining the new Fellow’s academic distinctions, included his earlier, pre-ordination life as a member of the band the Communards, and now as a BBC radio presenter. I almost expected him to invite the new Fellow to give us a few lines of his 1986 number-one hit “Don’t leave me this way” as a special treat.

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So my daughter moves to a new and large urban parish, and my granddaughter moves, by way of the scheme “Teach First”, to start a career as a teacher in a north-London comprehensive. Fifty-eight years ago, I ended my teaching career at a school a few miles up the road, in Tottenham.

She’s going to teach English in an Oasis Academy school: one of the projects of the Oasis Trust, led by the redoutable the Revd Steve Chalke. It seems only yesterday that I introduced her to the excitement of travelling on the front seat upstairs in a double-decker bus. Where do the years go?

 

Pardon my flip-flops

I TREATED my son and his girlfriend to two tickets for the deciding Test Match between England and the West Indies at Lord’s, and, for good measure (it was last year’s Christmas present), added tickets for lunch and afternoon tea in the Thomas Lord Suite.

My son is, like his father, a cricket addict; she is new to this mysterious game, but “keen to find out”, she says. After the Windies’ stirring win at Headingley, the match should be absorbing — although, being at Lord’s, without the gratuitous sight of spectators dressed as anything from Donald Trump to Little Bo Peep conga-dancing around the ground. At Lord’s, we actually go to watch the cricket.

In the Thomas Lord Suite, however, one must observe the “dress code”. I sent a copy on to my guests, noting only that, among other things, flip-flops were banned. I was not sure what they were; so I looked it up in The Oxford Dictionary. I dismissed as highly unlikely one definition (“an electronic switching circuit”), and decided it must be the other one: “a sandal with a thong passing between the big and second toes”. Yes, that certainly sounded unsuitable for such a solemn event, even though I think I had spotted them from time to time underneath the robes of our church choir.

When Thomas Lord bought seven acres of land in 1787 to create a cricket ground on the northern outskirts of London, he could not have foreseen that, 230 years later, it would be the most famous cricket ground in the world. Nor, of course, would he have recognised a flip-flop. But, then, neither would he have recognised batting helmets, television cameras, and electronic umpires, let alone conga-dancing spectators.

 

Hymn dilemmas

THERE is a church where I preside at the parish communion fairly regularly. The routine is that the choir director sends me a list of the hymns proposed for that week’s service for my approval. Generally speaking, I just glance at it — she’s very good, and the hymns always seem appropriate.

On this occasion, however, I had started preparing my homily earlier than usual. It was on the Gospel for the day, the part of Matthew 15 where Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees for elevating “the traditions of the elders” above the obedience and worship of the heart. I had even thought of a title for it: “the inwardness of true religion”.

One of the proposed hymns caught my eye, and drove me to the hymn book to check: “We love the place, O God.” As soon as I read it, I realised that either my sermon was rethought, or the hymn changed. Partly for simplicity’s sake, I stuck with the sermon, and we changed the hymn.

I could have suggested another hymn (next but one in Hymns Ancient & Modern) which would have expressed the heart of my homily very effectively: “Jesus, whe’er thy people meet”. As it says, God is “within no walls confined”, but inhabits the “humble mind”, and is with his people every bit as much in their homes as in their church.

It all reminded me of an event during our time in north London. The neighbouring Baptist church suffered a catastrophic fire one night, and was burnt to the ground. A senior police officer, from whom I heard the story, rang the minister to tell him what had happened.

“Pastor,” he said, “I’m sorry to tell you there’s been a fire, and your church is completely destroyed.”

“No, it’s not,” came the reply. “They’re all asleep in bed.”

 

And also with you

IT SEEMS that Sir Bruce Forsyth, who died last month, was everyone’s favourite celebrity. On the Sunday after his death, I was presiding at a eucharist in the same parish church. I looked at the congregation, and, on a whim, gave an alternative to the usual responsive greeting.

“Nice to see you,” I said. “To see you. . .” and the congregation roared back their response: “Nice!”

The Bishop of Oxford’s chaplain happened to be among them, and he remarked to me afterwards that, give it 20 years, it could well be in the liturgy.

 

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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