Peter wanted to be an Anglican priest from a young age. Following a short spell as a journalist, he trained to be a teacher at Keswick Hall in Norwich and worked at Lincoln Road Boys’ School in Peterborough and at the Hewett School in Norwich. After three years at Theological College in Chichester, Peter returned to Norfolk where he held a number of positions as a priest in Norwich and throughout the county.
Early days in Peterborough, and the influence of its cathedral
I was, as the comedian says, born at an early age in the Huntingdon side of Peterborough. It’s the south side of the River Nene as it comes into Peterborough, in the Diocese of Ely. I think in terms of dioceses rather than counties, and you’ll understand why as we progress.
Peterborough had a big railway yard, and as a result it was bombed in the Second War. I was missed, apparently, by a piece of shrapnel which whistled in through the window. I was too young to remember any of it! I was two by the end of the War, you see.
I went to Fletton Prep School when I was four years old, because I was able to read well by that age. Then I passed the voice test to be a chorister at Peterborough Cathedral, and I sang with them for some years. We lived within a few hundred yards of the precincts of the cathedral. I was brought up in the shadow of a great building, which I suppose influenced me a great deal. The great solemnity of the worship of the Cathedral impinged upon me, and I started off, even at that early age, wanting to be a priest. I stress ‘wanting’ because at that age it is wanting and not so much being called; the calling came very much later, hence ‘The Hound of Heaven.’ The priesthood pursued me rather than I pursue it, I think.
Early inquiries about the priesthood
At one point during my schooldays, I went to the schoolboys’ selection conference of the CACTM, which is the Central Advisory Council of Training for the Ministry, to inquire about my suitability to train as a priest. The answer came, ‘Yes, but not yet.’ I had to go off and get my knees brown, as they say. The earliest one could be ordained deacon is 23 actually, so I was far too young.
A brief career in journalism: wanting to do the right thing
I enjoyed writing, I’ve always enjoyed working with people, so I thought I would try my hand at journalism. I wrote an introductory letter to the editor of the Wisbech Advertiser. He was impressed by this letter, apparently, and said that the only thing that I’d got wrong was the spelling of Wisbech. I’d put an A in it, as I thought one would with beach! I did about 18 months with them, in the early sixties. I was about 18 or 19 years old. I remember I was sent forth, because of my interest in the church, to do the rounds of all the clergy, including the Salvation Army Colonel, to get all the news. And the undertakers! They seemed to have me categorised very early.
One particular week the ladies of the parish were going to scrub out the vast parish church of St Peter and St Paul, in Wisbech. I was sent along to ask the good canon, the vicar of Wisbech, Canon McCaughey, if he would mind a story about it, and photographs. He said he didn’t mind the story, but he did object to the photographs, because it was something that the ladies of the parish were doing out of their humility, and they did not want advertising or anything like that, so, if I didn’t mind, he would decline. My editor said, ‘Well, he’s going to have photographs whether he likes it or not.’
I said, ‘I’m sorry, Sir, but if the Vicar of Wisbech says that he doesn’t want photographs in his freehold, he won’t have them.’ Whereupon the editor and I had a difference of opinion!
I realised that I was being asked to do things to people I would not have liked done to me, including getting stories out of people whose young sons had fallen off milk floats and been killed. I realised I had come to get the story, not to express sympathy or to listen, and I found that very hard. So a few months later I went off to the Peterborough Standard, where I became the assistant manager of the small ads, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Preparations for the priesthood: study in Cumberland, and in Keswick Hall, Norwich
And then the feeling of, ‘I ought to consider ordination’ came even more strongly. I realised that I’d been putting it off. I did a bit of research, along with the priest of the parish where we were living just outside Peterborough. He said, ‘There’s just the place I think I know for you.’ It was up in Cumberland, as it was in those days, not Cumbria, as it is now. I went forth to learn some theology at the feet of very interesting people, including Thomas Bloomer, the Bishop of Carlisle, and Cyril Bulley, who was his suffragan, the Bishop of Penrith. We all thought it sounded very much like a firm of ecclesiastical solicitors: ‘Bulley & Bloomer’ or something like that! I had the great privilege of learning a lot of theology in Fox How, the house of Dr Arnold, the 19th Century Headmaster of Rugby School. I polished up on my theology and then went off to another selection conference, and the answer was, ‘Yes. Begin training when you find a place at Theological College.’
I was doing some work at Rydal Hall in Westmoreland, which was the Diocese of Carlisle’s Retreat House, and I became interested in teaching. I thought it would be a good idea to have a second string to my bow, and I rather liked the idea of a teaching ministry. I mean, that’s what sermons are, in theory, and hopefully in practice. I went down to King Alfred’s College in Winchester, where I was accepted, much to my amazement. Then my grandmother, who was living with us on the outskirts of Peterborough at the time, became terminally ill. I was an only child, and there were just the four of us in the family, so we thought it might be an idea if I transferred to Keswick Hall in Norwich. I had my own car (I was a very indulged student for the time), so I drove up entirely on spec to Norwich. I had an interview, or rather I was granted an audience, as it felt like, with Canon John Gibbs, who eventually became Bishop of Coventry. He said, ‘I’m terribly sorry. As much as we’d like to have you, we are entirely full.’
There was a knock at the door. In came the Principal’s secretary, who said, ‘I’m sorry to interrupt you, Canon, but Mr So-and-so says he can’t take up his place in September.’
Whereupon Canon Gibbs turned to me. ‘Well,’ he said, “the good Lord obviously sent you here. You’re in!’ My grandmother died about eight weeks later.
First teaching experience in Peterborough
I completed my teacher training college experience at Keswick Hall. My first teaching post was back in Peterborough. By then I’d married, and we set up home just over the border of the River Welland in Market Deeping in Lincolnshire. At that time my parents were living in Deeping St James. I went to teach at Lincoln Road Boys’ School. We referred to it as the ‘Academy for Young Gentlemen’. It was not! The students came from mainland China, or from Hong Kong. There were students of Italian, Polish, Pakistani and Indian backgrounds, and probably a few others as well. I taught English, History and Religious Studies.
They were very much city children. Some of them were the children of the railway workers. There were brickyard workers, they would be the Italian boys’ fathers, and the Asian community were setting up their shops. There was a large population of former prisoners of war, Italians and Poles, who didn’t want to go home after the Second World War. It was the start of the multi-cultural nature of Peterborough.
I taught at Lincoln Road Boys’ School for about two years. The father of one boy was in jail for stabbing someone to death. The boy was quite difficult, but he was very traumatised, in the true sense of the word, by what had happened. There was another boy who wanted to be a veterinary surgeon, but he wasn’t very intelligent, unfortunately. He was belligerent, because he was very frustrated, I suppose.
His mother was one of our dinner ladies, and she was very defensive of her son. I thought, ‘Perhaps if I had our boy keep mice this might assist the learning progress,’ as he loved anything to do with animals. The school caretaker, whose nickname was ‘Bulldog’, loathed and detested anything to do with animals outside the Science lab, but I was allowed to keep these mice at the back of my form room. The boy weighed them and he measured them and he drew them and he wrote about them. I think he went through the ‘three Rs’ with these three mice, and he was as good as gold with me.
He had a friend and they could both be rather badly behaved, but we got on well. One particular day they’d been playing me up, and I said to the two of them, ‘If you two don’t stop it I’ll bang your heads together.’
They said, ‘Oh, bet you can’t, Sir.’
I said, ‘I bet I can.’ I grabbed hold of them and pushed, and they resisted. They stopped resisting, but unfortunately I hadn’t stopped pushing! So I cracked their heads together with such a crack!
‘Gosh,’ I said, ‘I’m so sorry!’
‘That’s all right, Sir,’ and they laughed.
The next morning the boy who looked after the mice wasn’t there. I thought, ‘Oh my word, what have I done?’ I expected a visit from an incensed mother. But, no. In the afternoon he turned up with a purple lump the size of an egg on his forehead. I said, ‘What did you tell your mother?’
‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I told her I banged it on the wall, Sir.’
And I thought, ‘Well, thank goodness for those mice!’
Teaching there was actually good fun, because the students did respond, and I learned a lot from them.
A brief return to Norwich, then theological college in Chichester
I secured a teaching post at the Hewett School in Norwich. It was the time of the housing slump and we could not sell the house in Lincolnshire. It was on the market for 3,000 guineas, I remember that. I tried to commute on a daily basis from my wife’s family’s house in Ipswich, but eventually I had to apologise to the Headmaster, Dr Walter Roy, and resign after only one term. I went back to my old post at Peterborough. They were very glad to see me back, so they said!
Cyril Easthaugh was the Bishop of Peterborough at that time. We referred to him as ‘The Last Prince Bishop of Peterborough’. He went down in history in the Peterborough Diocese by writing an encyclical letter to his clergy which started off in the old style: ‘We, Cyril, by divine permission Lord Bishop of Peterborough, to our faithful clergy and people, greeting and apostolic benediction….’ Such a splendid prologue! But once you had knelt to kiss the ring and receive the blessing it was almost, ‘Slap me on the back and call me Cyril’ – in the days when bishops could be like that. His wife was the daughter of a belted Earl, and she was one of the most lovely people I’ve ever met. It was Cyril who sent me to Chichester Theological College. He said, ‘It’s a very good Catholic College and you’ll do very well there, I’m sure.’
As a curate at St Anne’s with St Elizabeth’s, Earlham, Norwich
I spent three very happy years at Chichester. Then I returned to Norwich for what we call a Title Curacy at St Anne’s with St Elizabeth’s, Earlham. It was a little bit of a culture shock, because I was slightly gently nurtured as a child. St Elizabeth’s was in a challenging part of the Larkman Estate, and we had to have riot glass in the window. When I was taking Evensong, the Creed was regularly interrupted by young people who thundered in at the back, and yelled and shouted and rushed out again. They seemed to know at just what point in the service to come in.
There was one young lady whom we had prepared for confirmation, and who had been confirmed. One day just before Christmas we had missed her at the morning Eucharist at St Anne’s. Curates have to do all sorts of jobs, clearing out cupboards and things like that, and when I turned up for Evensong I had to climb to the top of a rather tall and rickety ladder to put the star on the top of the Christmas tree. Suddenly the ladder was violently shaken. I looked down, clinging on for dear life, and there was the young lady looking up at me rather belligerently. She simply said, ‘ ‘Ere, I i’nt ‘ad it.’ She meant that she had not received Holy Communion that day! I had to descend and explain to her that she could receive in mid-week. But I shall never forget that because there were gales of laughter, and the possible meaning of what she said didn’t escape me either!
A move back to teaching; fond memories of the Hewett School
Clerical life wasn’t quite as I had envisaged it. I think I had rather too high a view, shall we say, of the life in the Church of England. I was at the end of my first year in Earlham, and I thought to myself, ‘Do I really want to keep going to jumble sales and visiting people?’
I needed to review and to regroup my feelings and opinions, so I decided to return to teaching. I went back to the Hewett School to be interviewed by the Headmaster, Dr Roy. He said, ‘Oh yes, I remember you. Now tell me what have you been doing since we last met.’
I said, ‘Well, I’ve been to Theological College. I have a qualification in Theology, and I’ve taught and I’ve done this and that.’
‘Oh yes, jolly good. Well, when did you say you could begin? Beginning of term?’ Interviews could go like that in those days.
At the Hewett School, I was inherited by the Head of Religious Studies, who had no idea that she was going to get another member of staff. She was somewhat aghast to discover I was a clergyman of some description!
I did take one opportunity to send up my Head of Department. I was asked whether I would like some new curtains in my form room, A18, so I invented this firm called the Mystic Rose Vestment Company. I wrote this letter saying I would quite like rose damask curtains and so forth and could I have a censer or something like that. We kept this correspondence going for some weeks, and I gather that several members of staff saw me in a slightly different light from that day on! I don’t think they thought I possessed a sense of humour, but I did and I do, and it has kept me relatively sane over the years. I love teaching and, although there were some blips with health and so forth, I very much enjoyed the seven years I spent at the Hewett.
A first living, as Rector of Winterton-on-Sea (and others….)
While I was teaching, I was also doing some curating in my spare time. I became the honorary Assistant Curate of Eaton. Then, after I left the Hewett, I served for another four years as the stipendiary Assistant Curate of Eaton. This was in 1983. During this time I was ordained deacon and priest in Norwich Cathedral.
The living of St Mark’s, Lakenham fell vacant. The incumbent had gone to North Walsham. His children were at the Hewett, and he rather liked the idea of me succeeding him at Lakenham, as did the P.C.C. But nothing happened, and nothing happened, and it suddenly turned out that an appointment had been made to Lakenham. And then St Alban’s with Norwich City Chaplaincy fell vacant. They invited me for interview. I went, and they said they would very much like me to be their parish priest. The Governors of Norwich City College said they would very much like me to be their chaplain, but nothing happened, and nothing happened! It eventually turned out that the Bishop of Norwich had said I had spent rather a lot of time in city ministry, which put a very big spanner in the works.
So I was sent out from my Assistant Curacy at Eaton to my first living as Rector of Winterton-on-Sea, East and West Somerton and Horsey-next-the-Sea, where I spent six very happy years as their parish priest and rector. They are literally the Winter town, the Summer town and the Horse Island, and they had been historically as well as geographically grouped. During those six years I looked after Martham with its satellite parishes of Repps cum Bastwick and Clippesby and Thurne and Billockby. I looked after Hemsby because it was in interregnum. And I was also asked, because of my churchmanship, to look after St Mary’s, Southtown in Yarmouth. I seemed to be the only parish priest left in that part of what was then the Flegg Deanery, and has since become the Great Yarmouth Deanery.
An impressive Easter service
By Christmas I had looked after all these parishes for about four months, and I was just about on my knees – and not in a prayerful attitude! We staggered through Christmas, and I still had all the parishes by the coming Easter, when I thought it would be much better to have the main Easter service in one church, rather than attempt to drive round all the parishes. Winterton was a very big church, with a very Anglo-Catholic tradition, which I had embellished and enhanced. They thought it wasn’t a good Mass if they could see me through the clouds of incense!
I said, ‘Look, if you don’t mind being kippered by the incense, you can all come to Winterton and we can have a glorious solemn Mass there.’
And they did, and we had over 400 people in Winterton, and they still remember that. I do because my thurifer got all tangled up with the rear end of the procession and had to do a smart turn left and go up into the sanctuary to allow the traffic jam to untangle itself. We enjoyed our faith at Winterton.
I ought to say that sadly during this time my first marriage came to an end. After a period of two years I remarried, with the Bishop’s permission. By then I had two children of City College and 6th Form age, and my second wife had two children of her own. One was away at university and the other was running a wine department in Great Yarmouth. I did go to various wine tastings, I must say!
The Stations of the Cross at Winterton
The Stations of the Cross at Winterton were cardboard Warham House Guild type things, 1920s vintage. They were highly regarded because they were old, but in terms of devotion they contributed little, and they were just about falling off the wall. I called a meeting of the P.C.C. and we decided that we would change them. I found some bronze, composite resin type Stations of the Cross, which are still there to this day, and they liked these very much. Unfortunately one member of the P.C.C. had been on holiday in Italy, and had missed the meeting. When she returned, she was absolutely furious, because she had not been consulted about the new Stations of the Cross. She told me privately that people were very dissatisfied with my ministry, which was completely the opposite to what I had heard from other sources. And I said, ‘Well, that can easily be rectified. I shall move.’ I had no intention of moving and thought no more of it.
Within six weeks the Archdeacon of Lynn rang to say that the Weybourne group in North Norfolk had fallen vacant into interregnum, and they thought that I would do rather well there. He said, ‘You’ve been at Winterton et al for about 6 years and I should think there’s very little left for you to do.’
I knew Weybourne because we’d spent holidays there in my youth and childhood. When we went to look at it. Mary fell in love with it, so the answer was, ‘If they’ll have me, yes.’ We went to interview, and we were offered the Weybourne group. So within six weeks of me telling my critic, ‘I shall move’, I read from the sanctuary steps that I’d been appointed by the Diocesan Authorities Rector of Weybourne, Upper Sheringham, East Beckham, West Beckham, Bodham, Kelling and Salthouse. I think she was somewhat shocked!
From Winterton to Weybourne, and a very happy 12 years as Rector
From Winterton my wife and I went forth to the Weybourne group of parishes, and I spent 11, I think nearly 12, happy years as Rector of those parishes, and eight of them as Rural Dean of Holt. There was a stage when nearly half of the parishes became vacant, and by then I had acquired an honorary Assistant Curate, three Readers and two Eucharistic Ministers. I could very nearly run a mini-diocese with those. For my Ruri-Decanal activities, I went out into the Deanery and covered most of the interregna work, which was fascinating. A Rural Dean can be rather hidden away, only seen at Deanery Synods and things like that. I became very hands-on with these parishes in vacancy, which I did enjoy, and they were all very pleased to see me. I think it’s very salutary to go forth to other people’s parishes, see the problems they have, and then return home to yours and say, ‘Thank God for Weybourne’ or whatever. It works very well.
My wife and I are both fairly gregarious, so we instituted two annual parties. It became obvious to us that North Norfolk was absolutely heaving with retired clerics and their wives, and clergy widowers and widows. We decided that we would have an Epiphanytide, New Year’s party for them, and also an Ascensiontide Mass. I used to take them off to All Saints, Upper Sheringham, which is a large church, where I could indulge my penchant for censer swinging and other high ceremonial. They were quite used to this at Upper Sheringham, although some of the other residents of the Deanery were not! They put up with me for eight years, and professed to enjoy the singing of the Holy Mysteries to Merbecke, and various censer swingings. Very rarely were we below 80 to 100, so it couldn’t have been too much of an endurance test for them. We would feed them afterwards, hence we acquired a very large fish kettle for the purpose. It just about would have fed 5,000, I think! But we enjoyed doing that, and our reward, if there was reward to be sought and had, was very simple. I overheard two elderly men saying to each other at table, ‘Well, so you’re Jim! Do you know we’ve spoken on the phone for 20 years, and I’ve never met you in the flesh?’
And I thought to myself, ‘Well, this really is what it’s all about, so that they can actually see each other and communicate.’ These gatherings became annual events and were very much looked forward to, I must say.
We rearranged the Rectory garden. I put in two ponds which were fairly small, so parishioners were not going to be re-baptised or anything like that, which is uncanonical anyway! We used the garden for all sorts of things, such as rectory fêtes. And we had the local primary school doing maypole dancing. The school was not Church of England, but the Headmistress was a practising Roman Catholic, and the Deputy Headmistress was the daughter of an Anglican priest. I had a great time visiting the children in the school. My assistant curate was a very high flyer in the world of music, and so what I lacked as a musician she more than amply supplied, and it was a great team for the school.
The stresses of life as a Rural Dean
The area of which I was Rural Dean was very large, with an unusual geography and topography. Although there are not many Broads, if any, in that part of Norfolk, it’s not unknown in some parts of the diocese for parishes to be on the other side of Broads, and suddenly what appears to be a half mile across a Broad turns into an eight-mile journey. I had to do so much driving between the parishes. I used to make silly remarks, such as, ‘I met somebody driving the other way the other day. He looked just like me, and I actually think it probably was me!’
I spent more time in my car than I did on my feet and in churches, and it was not the right thing to do. My health was beginning to suffer, and I eventually resigned the Rural Deanery after eight years. But it was an interesting experience and we loved it there. The only thing as a family we are likely to leave the Weybourne group will be our bones! We still have two double plots reserved in Weybourne burial ground. You get a wonderful view from there. I shan’t say I shall look forward to observing it, but nevertheless it’s a lovely place to go if you have to visit a grave. I think like that, you see; it’s an occupational hazard, probably.
I decided to resign the Deanery in the February and I finally left by the end of July, which I feel is about the right pace for the Church of England: ‘Like a mighty tortoise marches the Church of God’, or something like that!
Then at the beginning of November, round about Hallowe’en, I suffered a heart attack. Initially I thought I simply had a very nasty tummy upset. I remember falling into bed, and then I woke up in the morning feeling a bit wrung out, although I soon began to feel a little better. I did actually have a doctor’s appointment for something entirely unrelated, so I went down the hill to the surgery and sat in the waiting room. And in came this family from which I thought I had caught this tummy upset earlier in the week, and they looked like grim death. The first one came through and she said, ‘Ooh, Father, you don’t look very well.’
And I thought, ‘Crumbs, you want to see what you look like!’
But I was beginning to feel very uncomfortable with what I thought was indigestion. It travelled up and went into my neck and along my jaw line. The receptionist took one look at me and said, ‘I’ll get the doctor to come out now.’
The doctor popped out, clapped me onto an ECG machine and said in a very conversational manner, “Mmm, yes, you’re having a heart attack”.
Whereupon I said, equally conversationally, ‘Oh, am I?’ I felt uncomfortable, with a severe chest pain, and for some reason it still didn’t register. I was shipped off in an ambulance, hotly pursued by my wife who’d been called out of the Nursing Home where she was the matron, and I was admitted for a week. I’d lost about 12% of my heart muscle. They gave me a large dose of a drug called Streptokinase, which is a clot buster. I thought this was highly appropriate in my case, given I thought I was suffering from indigestion! It stopped any further damage, otherwise apparently I could have died.
I left hospital on the 5th of November. I thought, ‘Is this another hidden meaning along the path of life?’ The only physical discomfort I experienced was nothing to do with my chest. It was my legs. I almost had to learn to walk again. I spent the next two months wandering along various highways and byways with my grandfather’s stick, strengthening my legs again. It became increasingly obvious that there was no way I could really return to full time active parish ministry, and so I retired the following April, 2003.
Retirement in Sheringham, and a last part-time curacy
We’d bought a bungalow in Sheringham for retirement purposes. There was the most magnificent view right across Sheringham Woods and out to sea and the steam railway, and that persuaded us to stay. We wondered at the time if it was entirely wise, because I was living within 500 yards of my old parish boundary and deanery boundary. I spent two years looking after interregna in my old Deanery, which I found an interesting, but slightly painful experience. I knew far too much for my own good, and you can’t really tell people not to do things because you feel the way they’re heading is not the right way. You have to let them fall off the cliff on their own, otherwise they never learn.
My role in the official interregnum of one particular group of parishes was to take over from an active retired priest who then was 93 years old. He had been a Housemaster at Wellington College and had become Headmaster of Bedford School. He was a wonderful man to work with. I learned much from him, and we had a great time together. He and his slightly older wife, a wonderfully elegant lady, have since been gathered to their fathers, but I remember them both very fondly.
I was just about getting to the thumb-twiddling stage of retirement when the Bishop said, ‘You seem to be so much better. Would you like to take on a part-time curacy?’
As a result I ended up as half-time Priest-in-charge of Smallburgh St Peter, Dilham St Nicholas, Honing St Peter & St Paul with Crostwight All Saints. People usually ask, ‘Where on earth are they?’
They are between North Walsham and Stalham on the Happisburgh side, that is, on the coastal side. And you can indeed get lost round there! Even parishioners born and living there do! One of my churchwardens turned out of the Rectory in Honing, and when I next saw her, she said, ‘You know I live in Paston. Well, how on earth I found myself in Worstead I shall never know!’
I found that I was neighbour with one Father Anthony, whose first year coincided with my last year at Chichester. He was a very good iconographer, and a wonderful academic. He will tell you the most obscure things about this diocese, and a lot of my information comes from him. He is doing, I think, a Doctoral thesis at the moment on Bromholm Priory and other wonderful places. We were great friends, and still are, so it was a great joy to have him there.
I very nearly became Rural Dean of St Benet at Waxham and Tunstead. But it was thought, as I was part time, that it was better if I didn’t take on extra responsibility, so it passed to another friend of mine. He’d never been a Rural Dean before. He used to ring me up and say, ‘What do you think I should do about this?’
I would say, ‘Well now, when I was Rural Dean of Holt….’! Between us we cooked up all sorts of interesting schemes for the Deanery.
A final retirement – but still busy!
After nearly four years with them I was 65, and in August 2008 I decided to retire from full-time active parochial ministry. We’d sold the house in Sheringham to a couple who’d been my neighbours in Eaton, and who were now living in Sheringham. I’d married off their elder daughter, and they wanted to discuss my marrying off their younger daughter. They came to the house, and they thought it was wonderful, and the view. They said, ‘If you ever decide to sell it you will give us first refusal, won’t you?’
Well, we hadn’t thought of selling it at that stage, but it soon became apparent we could not live in and maintain the Rectory at Honing and maintain the house at Sheringham. And so we sold it to them. The house was called Reverie Chase, which everybody thought was a pun on Rev, for Reverend, but it wasn’t! A reverie is a dreamlike state, and I did do a lot of dreaming there. We then moved to this house in September 2008. It is called Hunters End because we did hunt and it is on the end, so that seems fairly logical!
We are very busy now in our retirement and dotage doing gardening, which we love, and travelling. We’ve been to China and all sorts of interesting places, and we hope to travel more when we cease doing the house and the garden here.
Worship at the Parmentergate group of parishes
My wife and I gravitated to the Parmentergate group of parishes: St John the Baptist, Timberhill with St Julian’s in King Street, which houses the Shrine of the Lady Julian.
The churchmanship of Timberhill, which is the colloquial name of the Parmentergate group of parishes, has been advanced to great extremes. This meets with my great approval and joy. We do actually have pre-Reformation rites with modern language according to the great Latin Church of the West, we pray for Benedict, our Pope, Rowan, Archbishop of Canterbury, and for Graham, our Bishop. It is genuinely deeply devotional and so warmly welcoming and accepting of all people. It’s a great joy to belong to that family. The Rector and parish priest has asked me several times now to sing the Solemn High Mass. This I do, with bits of Latin thrown in, so I have to sort of scratch up on that. We have wonderful times there. My wife and I run the monthly lunch club, which we hold in the north aisle, St John the Baptist’s aisle.
The church does actually possess a relic of the true cross, duly authenticated! St John’s has a secondary relic. We have a relic of St John the Baptist. It’s a piece of cloth, in which his head was reputed to have been laid. Every now and again these wonderful relics get processed in a great procession and so forth, and we have a wonderful time. All the eccentrics and interesting people of the diocese seem to come to Timberhill, and very rarely do we drop below 80. More often up near 100. It fulfils, obviously, a need within the Church of England as she is.
Some thoughts on the Church of England, and on the ordination of women priests: ‘for me it’s a matter not of gender but of authority’
I am a Catholic because I am an Anglican in the spirit of the Elizabethan Settlement. I’m an English Catholic, and reformed, and I love the restrained Catholicism of the English Church in all its forms. Hence I thoroughly enjoy not only a good Solemn High Mass, but also Matins, which I love to sing, and Evensong. I do believe the Church of England has much to teach the wider Church in terms of charity and in basic honesty in terms of washing our dirty linen in public, which we do very well.
The decision of the General Synod of the Church of England in November 1992 to support the ordination of women priests really shook me to my core. There were stories going round of friends who were going to leave the priesthood and open teashops and all sorts of things. Very few of them did. Quite a lot did go to Rome. Some are still there. Others regretted it and came back. I myself have contemplated doing so. I have worshipped, and do worship sometimes, with women clergy, and I have enjoyed working with them. If I should go by experience alone, I would have been won over long ago. However, I have grave reservations about women priests; the Sacramental aspect causes me grave misgivings.
I can make a very good theological case for women priests, and also against women priests, but it hinges mainly on authority. If the Church of England claims the Catholic priesthood, which it always has, it has no right to interfere with it, especially when the Pope says that he can’t. I suppose what I’m saying is, if Rome could acknowledge it, I would be a happy man.
I won’t say I have found refuge at Timberhill, because I’m not seeking refuge. I have managed to come to a kind of uneasy compromise, and, yes, that’s absolutely fine, because the whole of the English way of life is built on compromise, Church and State, and one can compromise in strength. It’s not a weakness, not always, anyway.
Final reflections on family life, and on the priesthood: ‘when things go wrong….there are joys and there is love’
Without my wife to support me a great deal would not have happened. She is not only my soul mate but my help mate in many ways. Through my teaching and clergy years my wife and I have made many wonderful friends in all parts of the world and of this country, and I regard them all very fondly. Although I don’t keep a mighty list of those for whom to pray, they get prayed for whether they like it or not. And when I can’t remember them any more, I put them metaphorically on a very large platter and offer them up to the good Lord. So they get prayed for en lump or en masse, depending!
My wife and I have ten grandchildren between us, and so I can transmit my ancient family arms. They date from about 1398, and are displayed in my hallway. I often ask people to genuflect before them! We originated from Kent and from the Isle of Ely, so you have a rare mixture of a Fen Tiger and a Kentish Hog.
The priestly ministry never ceases. As we so often quote, ‘Thou art a priest for ever, even unto the order of Melchizedek’. And everybody rushes off to look up Melchizedek, Priest King of Salem! Some of us are more active than others. Some should not give up, and others most certainly should! I hope I’m not in the latter category yet!
I started off wanting to be a priest, and ended up very definitely being called to be a priest, and it did pursue me. I knew that I would not be happy, even though I was very happy teaching, unless I offered for priestly ordination and followed it through. And my mother, who is 96 now, asked me only a few weeks ago, ‘Would you have done the same thing, dear, if you had your time over again?’
And I said, ‘You know, Mother, there have been difficulties, sadnesses, joys and all the rest of it along the way, but yes I would.’ I wouldn’t change any of it, even some of the most unhappy parts, because when things go wrong, even in marriage, there are joys and there is love, and you don’t switch off like a gas tap.
Here endeth the sermon. Amen!
Peter (b. 1943) talking to WISEArchive on 24th September 2009 in Norwich.
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