I AM sitting in a car showroom, disconsolately waiting for my car to be fixed. It hasn’t been a good few weeks, car-wise. On my way to a funeral, my car conked out — mercifully, in Uckfield High Street.
I phoned the funeral director in a state, and their lovely administrator got me to the crem. I then returned to wait for the AA, who got the car going, and I limped to my dealer. While the car was being looked at, I borrowed a car from one of my churchwardens: within two days, the shock absorbers had failed.
Sadly, my car’s engine fault threatened to be really expensive; so I threw in the towel and bought a new car. Alas, only a week later, returning from leading a vigil service in Guildford for the Order of St Lazarus, I hit a deer about a mile from home. The animal vanished into the undergrowth, but I was left with what turned out to be some £4000-worth of damage, which took six weeks to repair.
In the mean time, after an interment of ashes in Brighton, the tyre burst on the hire car I had been given; and, a week later, after the annual civic memorial at the Chattri monument, outside Brighton, the clutch went. The vehicle was collected and I was left, waif-like, clutching three bags of stuff, sitting on the kerb waiting for a taxi to take me home.
Now at least I have the car back, but the oil gauge is playing up. Hence, I’m back in the car showroom. Sigh. Note to self: all these car problems are related to church activities; retirement could prove cheaper. . .
Fishers of men
LOBSTER outfit, anyone? One of my rules of ministry — which I imparted to my last curate while we were dressed as Laurel and Hardy, and to my current Associate Vicar when we were dressed as Princess Leia (her) and Luke Skywalker (me) — is “Clerical dignity at all times”. Hence, in our recent children’s holiday club, “Under the Sea”, I was dressed in a bright orange lobster costume, complete with six legs and rather splendid claws. It was pretty hot (lobster thermidor?), but hugely successful.
The first holiday club for three years, there were some 50 children (we’d capped it at that as we had fewer helpers than before Covid), and we went through Jonah, Noah, and Jesus stilling the storm. I reflected on what a strange job this is: you have to be a theologian, social worker, performer, bereavement counsellor, manager, and — significantly and joyously — on top of all that, a children’s entertainer, too.
Suffer the children
FOR me, it all started in childhood. When I was about eight, my mother (having been asked by our village’s vicar) sent me along to church to join the choir, and — as I was still young enough to do what my mother told me — I duly went. I liked singing: my favourite service was matins, because that involved the most singing. I recall the rather rollicking way we sang the Te Deum, with its multiple changes of chant, which at best was a vocal grinding of gears and at worst a bit of a car crash.
It was, though, as I grew older, and experienced the cycle of the Church’s year, that I realised I was going for reasons other than just the music, and it was then that my own spiritual journey began.
I remember the little group of us sitting around the vicar’s dining table during confirmation classes: I still have the texts that he gave us, and the Good News Bible that I received at the confirmation itself (5 June 1973 — almost 50 years ago!). I think my sense of vocation started round about then, at the age of 12, and never left; and I believe that’s so for many clergy. Children’s spirituality is undervalued at our peril.
Following the flag
ONE fun thing that I’m currently doing is being chaplain to the High Sheriff of East Sussex. Appointed by our late and hugely lamented Queen, the lovely Jane King is this year’s Sheriff, overseeing the county’s judiciary, magistracy, prisons, police, and probation services, which she does with thoroughness and aplomb. I am lucky to trail around with her, seeing a whole new dimension of local life.
We recently returned from a trip to Dieppe for the 80th anniversary of the disastrous Dieppe raid of 1942, when more than 6000 (mainly Canadian) troops stormed the coast near Dieppe as a practice for D-Day. More than 1000 died; 2500 were wounded, and almost 2000 were captured. “Lessons were learned,” the Wikipedia entry says, but that’s not much consolation.
The National Commemoration was attended by the French Minister for the Armed Forces, who looked disconcertingly like Liz Truss. With the Marseillaise played four times by a large military band, and much flag-raising and -waving, it felt like a historic happening. A good do afterwards, too.
They shall grow not old
BUT the most memorable and moving experience was on a much smaller scale. In St Aubin-le-Cauf, a little village outside Dieppe, two Royal Canadian Air Force pilots had been shot down, and had been laid to rest, side by side, in the churchyard. Their photos were in a display case on the wall: two bright, happy young men in their twenties, with so much to live for. Only they hadn’t.
One had been Roman Catholic, one Protestant. “It makes no difference,” the mayor said. “They were brothers in arms, and now the village cares for them.” The kerbstone around the graves had been newly and carefully repainted for this commemoration. Eighty years on from their deaths, I cried.
The Revd John Wall is Rector of the Uckfield Plurality in East Sussex.