Life and faithPersonal stuff

40 years on …

Forty years ago on, on 30th September 1979 ….

 I was ordained at St Paul’s Cathedral and began a curacy at Holy Trinity, Wealdstone. Training had been hugely fulfilling. St John’s, Nottingham was a place of exciting spiritual and theological riches for me, with an exceptional faculty. A number of lifelong friendships began there. Within that vibrant charismatic/evangelical environment I discovered the Catholic contemplative tradition – or perhaps it found me. It was like a second conversion and as I had only recently arrived from London Bible College following a violent awakening to evangelical faith I struggled from severe spiritual/theological vertigo. Little wonder that when it came to seeking a curacy I did not know where I belonged at all. I was actually wondering if I was called to be a monk. It took years before I really worked that one through. Holy Trinity, and my training incumbent Trevor Lloyd, were very loving and patient.
On the ordination retreat I tipped, without warning, into deep fear. The bleak, musty confines of the old St Katherine’s retreat house, Stepney didn’t help. I remember looking out of my window onto the damp Commercial Road one night and wondering what on earth I was doing. This was London Diocese and I felt surrounded by very confident and highly gifted men (they were only men then). I hid it well in the pubs on those retreat evenings (don’t ask) but in the solitude of my room I wept with a turbulent mixture of terror and awe. I am still grateful for the care and support of the retreat conductor and have wondered ever since what he thought this incoherently soggy heap on the floor in front of him was doing on the threshold of ministry in the Church of God. As I re-read all this, a coffee-stained prayer card falls out of the pages of my journal.It is that wonderful prayer of Thomas Merton that begins – ‘My Lord, I have no idea where I am going’. 
We were required to wear cassocks to bow and swear to the Bishop of London – the formal and forbidding Gerald Ellison. One ordinand on that retreat was destined for an evangelical bastion in the city. I suspect he has never worn a cassock before or since but had managed to find one at the back of an old cleaning cupboard in a shadowy corner of the vestry. It was filthy, crumpled, buttons missing and too long for him. When, in his turn, he obediently bowed, his cassock fell open to expose torn jean bottoms and old trainers heavily speckled with magnolia paint. (Under canon law in those days magnolia was the only paint colour allowed on the walls of clergy homes). It could have been worse. In Chichester Diocese at that time candidates were not allowed to wear trousers at all under their cassocks during the retreat and ordination service (which does make practical sense of what Jesus said – ‘pray it does not happen in the winter’).
Sleepless and traumatised from the retreat, the service itself overwhelmed me with a sense of majesty and glory so intense that as I stood under that huge dome waiting for the hands to descend I seriously wondered if I would stay standing up.
Forty years on I look back with so much to be grateful for – people, places, communities that I have no adequate way of thanking now. I would never have got this far without them. Tomorrow, in my turn, I will support three candidates at their ordination. But with an added joy, undreamed of all those years ago: my dear wife Jackie, my life and ministry companion, will be the bishop who ordains them. 

On the ordination retreat I tipped, without warning, into deep fear. The bleak, musty confines of the old St Katherine’s retreat house, Stepney didn’t help. I remember looking out of my window onto the damp Commercial Road one night and wondering what on earth I was doing. This was London Diocese and I felt surrounded by very confident and highly gifted men (they were only men then). I hid it well in the pubs on those retreat evenings (don’t ask) but in the solitude of my room I wept with a turbulent mixture of terror and awe. I am still grateful for the care and support of the retreat conductor and have wondered ever since what he thought this incoherently soggy heap on the floor in front of him was doing on the threshold of ministry in the Church of God. As I re-read all this, a coffee-stained prayer card falls out of the pages of my journal.It is that wonderful prayer of Thomas Merton that begins – ‘My Lord, I have no idea where I am going’. 
We were required to wear cassocks to bow and swear to the Bishop of London – the formal and forbidding Gerald Ellison. One ordinand on that retreat was destined for an evangelical bastion in the city. I suspect he has never worn a cassock before or since but had managed to find one at the back of an old cleaning cupboard in a shadowy corner of the vestry. It was filthy, crumpled, buttons missing and too long for him. When, in his turn, he obediently bowed, his cassock fell open to expose torn jean bottoms and old trainers heavily speckled with magnolia paint. (Under canon law in those days magnolia was the only paint colour allowed on the walls of clergy homes). It could have been worse. In Chichester Diocese at that time candidates were not allowed to wear trousers at all under their cassocks during the retreat and ordination service (which does make practical sense of what Jesus said – ‘pray it does not happen in the winter’).
Sleepless and traumatised from the retreat, the service itself overwhelmed me with a sense of majesty and glory so intense that as I stood under that huge dome waiting for the hands to descend I seriously wondered if I would stay standing up.
Forty years on I look back with so much to be grateful for – people, places, communities that I have no adequate way of thanking now. I would never have got this far without them. Tomorrow, in my turn, I will support three candidates at their ordination. But with an added joy, undreamed of all those years ago: my dear wife Jackie, my life and ministry companion, will be the bishop who ordains them. 

On the ordination retreat I tipped, without warning, into deep fear. The bleak, musty confines of the old St Katherine’s retreat house, Stepney didn’t help. I remember looking out of my window onto the damp Commercial Road one night and wondering what on earth I was doing. This was London Diocese and I felt surrounded by very confident and highly gifted men (they were only men then). I hid it well in the pubs on those retreat evenings (don’t ask) but in the solitude of my room I wept with a turbulent mixture of terror and awe. I am still grateful for the care and support of the retreat conductor and have wondered ever since what he thought this incoherently soggy heap on the floor in front of him was doing on the threshold of ministry in the Church of God. As I re-read all this, a coffee-stained prayer card falls out of the pages of my journal.It is that wonderful prayer of Thomas Merton that begins – ‘My Lord, I have no idea where I am going’. 
We were required to wear cassocks to bow and swear to the Bishop of London – the formal and forbidding Gerald Ellison. One ordinand on that retreat was destined for an evangelical bastion in the city. I suspect he has never worn a cassock before or since but had managed to find one at the back of an old cleaning cupboard in a shadowy corner of the vestry. It was filthy, crumpled, buttons missing and too long for him. When, in his turn, he obediently bowed, his cassock fell open to expose torn jean bottoms and old trainers heavily speckled with magnolia paint. (Under canon law in those days magnolia was the only paint colour allowed on the walls of clergy homes). It could have been worse. In Chichester Diocese at that time candidates were not allowed to wear trousers at all under their cassocks during the retreat and ordination service (which does make practical sense of what Jesus said – ‘pray it does not happen in the winter’).
Sleepless and traumatised from the retreat, the service itself overwhelmed me with a sense of majesty and glory so intense that as I stood under that huge dome waiting for the hands to descend I seriously wondered if I would stay standing up.
Forty years on I look back with so much to be grateful for – people, places, communities that I have no adequate way of thanking now. I would never have got this far without them. Tomorrow, in my turn, I will support three candidates at their ordination. But with an added joy, undreamed of all those years ago: my dear wife Jackie, my life and ministry companion, will be the bishop who ordains them. 

Thanks be to God. And thanks beyond words to all who have loved, supported and prayed across the years.

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