Saturday, 1 June 2002
Trinity Sunday always reminds me of my 10 day trek along the Pembrokeshire coast path: physical challenge, mental freedom and spiritual pilgrimage all rolled in to one – in constant communion with the cliffs, the ever-changing sea and the all encompassing sky.
I felt sorry for the preacher in the church I attended in Pembroke on the evening of Trinity Sunday that year – after all I had picked my holiday dates wisely to avoid that particular sermon. He tried to give some explanation of what the Trinity was and inevitably ended up by apologising. If we get bogged down in mathematics or give too much emphasis to three leafed clovers then we inevitably ‘dumb things down’, as they say nowadays.
Perhaps the power of the idea of Trinity lies in the fact that it is beyond explanation. Rather it symbolises the complexities of life, the interplay of various contradictions, contrasts and competing interests; but also the relevance of God and the strength which God gives to the believer in the midst of all of these.
Take the basic ‘trinity’ of Self, Family and Community. A key process in all our lives is to work out the balance between these three. It would be great if each one was always in harmony with both the others, but of course that’s not the way it is in practice – perhaps it would be if we were all perfect but we’re not.
Having said that, it is clear that some of the most beautiful things emerge out of conflict – how many of the greatest artists have conceived their works in response to the painful conflicts within body, mind and spirit. The beauty of the coast is by no means lessened by a dramatic clash between wind, rock and wave.
God is not a simple idea, nor is he a kindly old gentleman. God is greater and more beautiful and more awe inspiring than anything we can think or imagine. As the Old Testament patriarch Jacob found out: in wrestling with God we find strength, even as we are made painfully aware of our humanity. But again, as St Patrick prayed:
I arise today through a mighty strength, the strong name of the Trinity.
Through belief in the three-ness, through the confession of the one-ness
of the creator of creation.
My first official visit to Worsbrough was in 1966, when I was still finding my way around
South Yorkshire and learning the language. I had come into teaching by accident, having left after a very unhappy year there and arrived at Lichfield Theological College because I had married a girl from Mexborough Grammar School Sheffield who was homesick! I stayed until 1970, when I became Head of English at Penistone Grammar. After part time training with the North West Ordination Course, I was priested in 1977, and after eighteen months as curate of Chapeltown I was asked by Bishop Gordon Fallows to take on the Worsbroughs, as he thought I was tough enough for the job! It was not going to be easy, as Colin Hill had been there for about seven years and was very popular with the church people, and my family had been happily settled for thirteen years in Chapeltown. However, I was immediately struck by the warmth and generosity of the congregation, as large working parties gutted the then vicarage, opposite the church hall, and redecorated it from top to bottom.
My memories of those four years are quite sketchy, as life was unbelievably busy. Carol was still teaching in Chapeltown, but became very ill and had to have a hysterectomy, my mother down in Ramsgate went rapidly downhill after my father’s death and needed full time care, and the children were learning to cope with the survival problems which vicarage children usually had in those days. Of course, the pits were still open but in serious decline, the railway line and many other businesses had closed down, and there was an air of dereliction and hopelessness throughout the parish. Arthur Scargill, who was a national figure at that time, lived just behind the vicarage on
Yews Lane, and so dodging reporters of all kinds and nationalities was an occupational hazard.
As I have no real contact with the parish now, I will give you the names of the people I remember most clearly, some of whom may still be around. The wardens were Raymond Hampshire and Terry Kilburn. Ray was our elder statesman, and his wife Marie ran the Mothers Union. Terry worked for the Coal Board and was a valuable support to me and my successor until his untimely death. My other valuable support was Pat Vaughan, who kept the keys, cleaned the church, wrote up all the records, ran the Girl Guides, and kept me on my toes – quite a difficult job, as I was still very inexperienced. The organist was Ron Langdon, a saintly man who followed in his father’s footsteps, giving an immense amount of time and energy to creating and running a large choir, with real choirboys gathered from the back streets of Worsbrough. The boys were regularly bribed with sweets from Percy, Gwen and Frank, and given occasional superb parties by Madge, Ron’s wife. Ron sadly died not long after moving away from the parish. The secretary was Audrey Hawes, who lived outside the parish, and now runs a hotel in
Blackpool. The treasurer was Derek Firth, who ran an engineering company, and grew magnificent dahlias. The magazine, a monthly affair, was put together by Ann Wigglesworth, who lived with her aunt on the edge of the cutting. The Church Lads Brigade was run with military precision by Malcolm and Kathryn Crowther, and the Sunday School was run by Hilda Hinde, including trips to exotic places like Mabelthorpe and Hornsea. And then there were May and Mildred, Jean, Molly and Sally, who brightened my days with their cheery smiles and their willingness to help anyone do anything at any time. There must of course be many more, but remembering even this lot for me is a triumph!
Visits were always popular with the congregation. Apart from Hilda’s trips to the seaside, the Wives group and the MU would trek off to stately homes, gardens, and even on one occasion to
Life for me was of course the endless round of funerals, weddings, and baptisms, with all the associated home visits, which I always felt I should do myself. Trips to the factories and the pit were quite rare, but always rewarding. Of course I always had to make my annual visits to the pubs for their Christmas carols and their harvest festivals, which sometimes made it a bit difficult to find my way home afterwards. My first innovation in the church was a short family service before the main rather formal communion, which was welcomed by those with small children, but viewed with suspicion by everyone else. The other was an annual Christingle service, quite rare in those days, which filled the church to overflowing.
Last of all there were my three friends from my teaching days, Dave Malkin, Les Foweather and Brian Ivett. They seldom ever set foot in church, but their contribution to the artistic and creative life of the area was immeasurable. Their best work – indeed, the best thing which has ever come out of Worsbrough – was ‘A Miner Too Many’ – a play written and researched by them about an actual Worsbrough family who lived and died in the pit disaster recorded on the monument in front of the church, and whose family history they traced in the church records. It was performed in the school hall by children who were descended from the families they were depicting, to audiences of miners and ex miners who were gripped by the reality of the presentation, which included the creation of a coal face on stage, and an explosion with real explosives! Their most spectacular project was a re-enactment of the Mystery plays in Worsbrough village churchyard, with the help and co-operation of all the schools, churches, factories, the NCB, and the Angels and Ministers of Grace! I still remember the crucifixion scene under blackening storm clouds, when, as Christ on the cross said ‘Eli, Eli …’ a quite natural thunderbolt crashed to earth quite near, followed immediately by torrential rain. On one moved!
Although I enjoyed my time at Worsbrough, and still like to visit
Barnsley as a tourist, yet I never felt that I fitted in. I was a young southern ex teacher with a Cambridge degree who didn’t smoke, drink beer, breed pigeons, or go to football matches, so although I was tolerated, yet I was never accepted, and my children had quite a tough time at school. Therefore, when I was offered in 1983 the chaplaincy of a huge hospital with a small country parish in Essex, I felt I couldn’t refuse. However, as I settled into my new job, the news that the miners strike was tearing my old parish apart gave me many sleepless nights. However, no one is indispensable, and in the fullness of time a new man came, and parish life continued as it always had, and no doubt always will.
I wish you all well, and I thank you for giving me this opportunity to revisit places and faces which I had almost forgotten.