Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

How much effect does a vicar have on your life?

Our local one as I was growing-up dropped in and out of my life repeatedly over those years. Not just on those occasions when I actually went to church, but as my school was an affiliate, he'd regularly show-up to preach in assemblies there too.

I remember the way in which he used to stand there, with his arm behind his back, holding onto his opposite arm, above the elbow.

I also remember him because his daughter was in my class.

Years later I got involved in the church a bit more seriously, and would sometimes find myself talking to him at fellowship meetings and the like. It was quite a big church in those days, and remains so, which made actually having a conversation with the big cheese a bit of a bonus.

He was, to me, very much the definitive vicar. He... err... wasn’t that young, and always seemed so serious, but pleasant with it. The dog-collar didn't exactly subtract from his potential as a comedy vicar either.

In fact, I don't think I was alone in thinking of him as something of a straight comedy foil. A friend told me the legend of the time when this man had begun a sermon on that most sitcommy of subjects for a comedy vicar to preach on, sex.

He'd stood-up in the ancient pulpit and looked out at the sea of straight faces around the congregation. He drew breath and his serious echoing voice began:

"The Bible doesn't leave us groping around in the dark about sex."

The way my friend tells it, he can remember nothing else of the rest of the sermon apart from that tortuous first line, due to spending the rest of the next 20 minutes trying desperately to maintain a straight face.

A few seconds later, my friend became aware that his pew was gently rocking backwards and forwards, and realised that this was because his friend was also fighting to hold-in his mirth too. Eventually his friend could stand the pressure no more, and fled outside to his car. Dick Emery would be proud.

Time passed. Our vicar became ill for a long time, and took a very extended leave. During this hiatus, a big dispute broke-out among the remaining leadership, and people left, some not by choice. Eventually, he didn't come back either. In retrospect his long illness perhaps acted as some sort of a metaphor for what seemed to be taking place in the rest of the church.

Eventually, there was a new vicar appointed. People got over the earlier rift. Life sprung eternal, and one of the old protagonists would actually use the word 'revival' to me recently.

By now the old vicar had got better, and was occasionally coming back to town to put in an appearance. Special funerals, that sort of thing. While I was off in New Zealand, it was good to hear that he was well again.

He even came back to wish his replacement well when he was promoted to Bishop last year. I wanted to take a photo of him, since in all those years I had never got one, but my camera-battery had died that evening, so I never even asked.

Of course, I didn't expect him to remember little old me either. I walked past him that evening, he said "Hello", I said "Hello", and that was that. How very British. I think I have one of those familiar faces.

This afternoon, with the church taking a breather before a new new vicar is appointed, he was back again to conduct a small communion service in advance of Easter. Being a weekday afternoon, most of those present were seniors, (my mum did the reading!) but I didn't want to miss this either. For me, it was almost a nostalgia-trip. In the old days, his sermons had been the only ones that I had really known, but now that I had circled the globe and been to a few more different types of church, I wondered how he would measure up.

First up, you would never know that he had been ill. This retiree was perfectly active, thank you. (he didn't put his hand behind his back and grip his opposite arm above the elbow though)

Second up, his sermon was entirely consistent with the way I recall. He was absolute in his conviction about Jesus loving his disciples to the very end, and his exposition of all that that meant, struck me as being as definitive as preaching gets. Not necessarily better than anyone else, but presumably a lifetime of doing these things had furnished him with a very definite way of how to put them together.

I should also mention that this is an Anglican church we're talking about, so to hear his voice intoning away through such familiar scripts once more was like putting on an old pair of shoes.

And third up? He did remember me!

Well, sort of. He actually asked Raili who I was. She told him that he'd confirmed me years ago, which wasn't actually correct, so I made a point of reintroducing myself.

We had a brief chat, and I asked if I could take his photo, which of course he was happy to do. He asked where I wanted him to stand, and I said that I really didn't mind what was in the background, it was the subject that I was interested in.

It seemed that he was really surprised to recognise me, because he looked at me at one point and actually protested, "You look so young!"

In equal surprise, the very first – sincere - words on my lips were, "Well you look pretty young yourself..."


2 comment(s):

At 1:15 am, Blogger BJ said...

awesome account.

The Not Vicar...

At 7:55 am, Blogger Steve Goble said...

Thanks, Not Vicar!



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