A PRIEST from Devon, the Revd John Hayhoe, has swapped his pulpit for the cab of a 22-tonne lorry.
Last month, Mr Hayhoe, who is 64, and rose to be a Major in the Grenadier Guards in a 17-year career in the military before his ordination, relinquished his post as Rector of the Dunkeswell Mission Community, in Exeter diocese. He has taken to the road. Now he spends his working day touring the West Country, delivering cargo as varied as cardboard packaging and nitric acid.
Ill-heath and the pressures of four years spent running the rural benefice, which covers ten villages in six parishes near Honiton, forced his decision to retire early. So, on Sunday 14 November, Mr Hayhoe took his last service at St Andrew the Apostle and Martyr, Broadhembury. The next day, he signed on at an HGV-training centre in Croydon.
“I was becoming a broken priest,” he said. “I decided that I desperately needed a break from ministry and to look after my physical and emotional health, but I was very aware of my responsibilities towards my wife and family.” Two of his four children are still in full-time education, and he needed to find work. He picked truck-driving, as during his army career he had run a vehicle-trials unit. “There were all sorts of big-wheeled vehicles, from tank transporters down, and I enjoyed working with them.”
Today, he works for an agency; so he can control how and when he drives. “I can take a week off, or even a month if there is a particular retreat I want to go on. There is no problem about holidays.”
He hopes that eventually he can return to ministry. “I have not stopped being a witness. I haven’t stopped sharing my faith. I am just doing it in a slightly different way,” he said. “I will always be a priest, and, once I have caught my breath and rebalanced my life, I shall apply for a permission to officiate. I will look to support colleagues in parish ministry in due course.”
He enjoys the solitude of the cab, often driving for two-hour stretches two or three times a day. “I don’t listen to the radio: having the opportunity to concentrate and think is very good.
“There are significant differences to driving a car — the length, height, weight, rate of acceleration, and the braking time — and you have to be aware of the vehicle’s size, not driving over the kerb, visibility, and blind spots; but actual driving is remarkably straightforward. Most vehicles are automatic — and the seat is remarkably comfortable.”
For a man who once guarded the Queen at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle and then spent 18 years in ministry, he does not see driving a truck as a lesser position. “I gave up a lot of money to go into the Church,” he said. “Status is not what life is about. There are a great many people who reflect on what they have been. Being a lorry driver is certainly not beneath me.”