Saturday, 20 October 2007

Our two Family Doctors.

English people in the 1940’s and 1950’s (as I was growing up) could be counted upon to have three prejudices. They made fun of the Welsh, despised the Scots, and hated the Irish.

Not my Dad, at least as far as the Irish were concerned. As a plumber he worked with many Irish “navvies” (labourers) and adored them.

He would get angry if we told “Irish jokes”.

‘Twas just as well, as our family Doctor was an Irishman, Dr. Purcell.

He had a “surgery” (English for Doctor’s office) on Stapleton Road, just around the corner from where Dad had grown up.

His waiting room had cane chairs with latticed backs and seats. There we would sit, snuffling and sneezing until a “buzzer” summoned us into his office. There we would be greeted with clouds of smoke (Doctors smoked in their offices way back then); and by this affable Irishman who often prescribed a “tonic” (horrid tasting medicine laced with iron).

Dr. Purcell made house calls, carrying the inevitable black leather bag. But he never drove. His wife drove their green Riley roadster, for Dr. Purcell had caused the death of a pedestrian when he had been driving drunk, and was banned from driving for life. Mrs. Purcell would sit in the car (wearing a fur coat in winter weather), waiting whilst he made calls.

Do I remember, or do I imagine that his breath often smelled of brandy?

He was welcome in our home, for he knew us each by name, and we knew that he cared, besides which, Dad liked Irishmen.

When Dr. Purcell retired his nephew, Dr. O’Brien inherited, or bought his practice. We didn’t like him quite as much as his Uncle, but he was our family Doctor for many years.

A day and a half before Dad died, he was in great pain as he lay in bed in our home in the middle of the night. . We called Dr. O’Brien’s office, and a Locum arrived, and gave Dad a shot of morphine.

At about 11:00 a.m. the next day, Dr. O’Brien arrived all unexpected, and told us that an ambulance was on its way to take Dad to Ham Green Hospital.

We had no choice in the matter. I’ve never quite known whether Dr. O’Brien was being paternalistic, or deeply caring. Maybe both.

Dad died in the Hospital within 24 hours.

A day or so later Dr. O’Brien showed up at our house again. He wanted to “check in on us” and made sure that we were O.K. He offered to prescribe Valium if we felt we needed it. We did not.

It had been good old fashioned Doctoring from these two Irishman who cared.

And now, my own physician, Dr. Kristen Paulus is just as caring, even though she does not make house calls. First she is interested in me as an all round human being. Then she cares for my body.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Four of my role models

Dr. Grace Sawyer Jones was a member of St. Stephen’s in Pittsfield. When I arrived there to be Rector (in 1984) she was the Assistant to the President of Berkshire Community College.

When he resigned under pressure, Grace did so too, and took a post with the Pittsfield School Department. It was not the best fit, and Grace left that job, and began a process of reflection on her career.

At that time she came to see me and said that in this period of “resting”, she now had a bit of time to serve Christ in the Church.

And she was true to her word, becoming Junior Warden. She was the best. Wise and intuitive as she is, her gift to me was to firmly and gracefully challenge me as Rector when that was important and necessary.

Dr. Jones moved on and is now President of Three Rivers Community College in Norwich Ct. We chat often, and I always trust her wisdom.

The Rt. Reverend Barbara C Harris was the first woman to be elected and consecrated as Bishop in the Episcopal Church. She became Bishop Suffragan in Massachusetts, and I was then a member of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts. I preached at St. Stephen’s “in favour” of her consecration, and lost two parishioners in response to that sermon.

Soon after, Barbara was a keynote speaker at a Conference in Holyoke, MA, and Grace and I, together with the Revd. Gwen Sears and St. Stephen’s Senior Warden, John Lord hastened to attend.

Three of the four of us were smokers, and we found ourselves, with great glee, in draughty entrance ways, puffing away with Bishop Harris.

We were also overjoyed when Bishop Harris came out to Pittsfield gto preach at one of our anniversary services.

When I moved to St. James’s, Cambridge, MA in 2000, Bishop Harris became one of my Bishops. Oh what joy!

I adore that feisty, funny, gutsy woman, and wish that I had but ten per-cent of her courage and gospel-faithfulness.

At St. James’s I met Dr. Michelle Holmes. She was a member of the Search Committee. Michelle has two Harvard Doctorates, and is Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. She is a leader in the field of Breast cancer research.

Michelle, her husband Derrick, and their children Omar and Tano were always there for me, to laugh, to long, to weep and to hope for a better world.

One Sunday, Michelle and Derrick made a presentation at Church on breast cancer in women, but designed to speak to the husbands, father, sons and boy-friends of women who’d had, or who might have breast cancer. Since the gospel is about wholeness, we needed to address this in Church. Michelle was eloquent, and Derrick was a wonderful foil as her “props” assistant.

I think of Michelle as one of my great teachers, and have a deep respect for her as a researcher, wife, and mother.

Today (Oct 19th 2007) I met Dr. Navita Cumming James at a Diocese of South West Florida event in Venice, FL. Dr. James is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communications at the University of South Florida.

She gave a dynamic opening speech, and then joined our small group.

She is just so cool! She knows her stuff, and has that great gift of listening well, so that people are unafraid to speak their fears and hopes. Dr. James lives in Tampa, but I long that our paths will cross again. I need her truth and wisdom.

What a sweet and blessed life I’ve had, with role models such as Grace, Barbara, Michelle and Navita!

Thursday, 18 October 2007

When I was horribly religious (2)

In 1956 five young American Missionaries were speared and hacked to death by members of the Woadani tribe in Ecuador. They became known as the “five martyrs of Ecuador”.

At least three of the five were Plymouth Brethren, so we took extra and somewhat exuberant pride in their deaths.

Sometime later in ‘56 or perhaps in ‘57 a group of we young “Peebs” took the ‘bus to the City of Bath to a Gospel Hall there, for a slide show of the five martyrs. It ended with the inevitable sunset slide, and we all sang “We rest on thee, our shield and our defender”, the hymn that had been sung by the men on the night of their murders.

Of course, I immediately wanted to be a missionary - except for that small matter of potential martyrdom. I devoured everything I could read about the men.

Elisabeth Elliott, widow of the martyr Jim Elliott, wrote a biography of her late husband “Shadow of the Almighty” I dare say that book influenced more young evangelicals of my generation than any other.

Jim had written “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose”. I planned to be “no fool” and to give everything to Jesus (well, not quite everything - aye, there was the rub!).

In 1960 “Youth for Christ International” held it’s great annual convention in Bristol. Most of the local evangelical churches were enthusiastic about this, but not the separatist Brethren of Chelsea Gospel Hall.

But the event had been advertised in “The Harvester” a monthly Plymouth Brethren magazine, which gave it some warrant in the minds of we young turks. So despite the gloomy warnings of our Elders, many of us participated in the week long events.

We met real live Americans for the first time, and even at that age (I was 16) we talked with them of our fears of America having a Roman Catholic President. “Would he take instructions from the Pope?”

The YFC convention was the beginning of a “break out time” for many of us. The music was lively and engaging. The Americans were young, charming and engaging. And, we met “true Christians” from “the systems”. (Remember that the P.B’s spoke of denominations as “the systems of men” - they were not the true Church).

Four of us, Jeffrey Davies, Richard Woodey, Eric Pavey and I were inspired by Youth for Christ to begin a “Gospel Quartette”. We sang in unaccompanied close harmony. And the Brethren looked upon us with pride and awe “four 16 year olds who were keen for the Lord”.

So we sang, and sang, and the original group stayed together for four years. Jeff Davies was the first to leave when he became engaged to marry Mary Bees. I was the next, when I, at aged 20 left to go to Bible College, determined to be an evangelist. (More about that later).

Precocious little buggers that we were, we decided right from the beginning that we would sing wherever we were invited, including Baptist, Methodist and Anglican Churches, for after all, “they needed the Gospel too”. (It was then that I first encountered Anglican Liturgy - and I liked it!)

And not only did we sing, but we also preached. So I have been preaching since I was 16 years old. Little wonder that I needed a year’s sabbatical when I retired in 2006!

We sang and preached all over the country - in one year alone we had over 60 “engagements”. We were “dead serious” about our mission, and slightly priggish to say the least.

But we had moments of comedy. One of us was preaching on the feeding of the five thousand and carried away with his own rhetoric said “and there were millions and millions there … well 5,000!”.

Another, when reading Luke 4:25 mis-spoke and said first “there were many windows”, and then, correcting himself said “there were merry widows”.

And we never forgot the time when I, telling the story of the Titanic (which huge drama on my part) cried out “and the Titanic shunk”.

And I was beginning to have some doubts. No matter how many times I had re-dedicated my life to Jesus, I was still having major crushes on other young men, and was subject to “impure” thoughts and deeds. I remember protesting “I don’t want to sing Victory in Jesus, for I do not have that victory”. But my precocity and pride won out, and I decided to become a “full time evangelist” with the Brethren. That story will have to wait for another day.

I still hear from time to time from Eric and Richard, and Jeff is still alive. But, they are men in their mid-sixties by now.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Oh - the things I have seen!

My old friend Jay tells the story of the Baptist Minister who asked the Episcopal Priest “do you believe in infant baptism?” “Believe in it?” replied the Priest, “dammit, I’ve seen it!”

These are some things I have seen.

At the top of the railway bridge on Devon Rd, by the steps which led down to Colston Rd there was an old gas street lamp and a ‘phone booth.

The lamp was lit each evening, and unlit the next morning by the “lamplighter”. This man would travel by bicycle, carrying a long pole with a hook at one end, and a ladder.

The pole was used to turn the lamp on and off - this was done by inserting the hook into a pivoted metal bar, with rings at each end - a tug on one ring would turn the gas “on”, and on the other would turn it “off”.

The ladder was in case the fragile gas mantle had burned through, in which case the lamplighter would have to climb it to attach a new mantle.

One of my fondest and earliest memories is of seeing the lamplighter, an “endangered species” even when I was a child.

And the ‘phone box. Yes it was one of those old and loved red coloured British boxes. It was coin operated, and local calls cost fourpence, using four big pennies.

First we would pick up the ‘phone to make sure there was a dial tone.

That being so (not always!), we would insert those four pennies and dial the local number. If the person we were calling answered, we would “press button A” and the pennies would drop into the coin box, and the connection would be made. If that person did not answer, we would “press button B” to get our pennies back.

The coin box would also accepted tanners and bobs to be used for long distance calls, always made via the operator.

‘Phone service in the U.K. at that time was a government monopoly operated by “Post Office Telephones” - a branch of the Royal Mail.

Post Office telephones designed these call boxes, and they were also used in Australia and in Germany.

(Once we got through on a local call, the time was unlimited. So we would often have long waits whilst a prior customer, probably a love-sick swain, talked ad infinitum with his girl.)

It was not until 1960 that dad consented to having our own home ‘phone. He had believed that only business folks needed a ‘phone.

When he finally consented, the ‘phone was installed in my name, and my two older sisters and I paid the bill. Our number was “Bristol 51769” [later 551769]

Some of my American friends have told me that they have experienced a “pea-souper” fog in England. Unless they had visited before the late fifties, they had seen no such thing.

Pea-soupers were caused when cold, damp, foggy air descended. Because it was cold, folks would light their coal fires, and the coal smoke would be trapped, and mixed with the fog to make a greenish, yellowish smog.

The most infamous of these pea-soupers was in London in 1952. It lasted for four days. A performance at the Sadlers Wells Theatre had to be abandoned because the audience could not see the stage. 4,00o people died of respiratory illness during those days, and 8,ooo more in the weeks which followed.

This led to various “Clean Air” Acts of Parliament, and the development of “smokeless coals”.

But I remember those pea-soupers in Bristol, and I loved them!

Sometimes I could not see more than 10’ ahead, and to be out and about was all a great adventure. Women or men passengers would walk ahead of their cars, sometimes with torches (flashlights) simply to be able to identify the middle of the road.

And this is “gross” (but as you know I “do gross!), blowing my nose would reveal coal smuts in the “snot”! I hadn’t the slightest idea of how dangerous this was.

Not gross, but lovely as a memory, is Nanny’s milk-man. I think (but cannot be sure about this) that he had a hand-guided electric milk float. This carried big churns of milk. Nanny would cross the street with her porcelain jug, and the milkman, using a dipper, would fill her jug from the churn. Sooner or later the authorities banned this, and insisted that milk be delivered in bottles. That put Nanny’s aging dairyman out of business.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

When I was horribly religious (1)

By the time I was 13 I had been (re) baptized by immersion at Chelsea Gospel Hall. Not surprisingly, precocious as I was, I was quickly “in fellowship”, and able to sit in front of the boards, and eat the bread/drink the wine.

I was so “holy” that it makes me sick! I attended the weekly meetings for biblical exposition (the “Ministry Meeting”), and the weekly “Prayer Meetings”.

I was filled with sound, but without fury. Someone reported, with obvious pride, that I “prayed like an old man”, but Eddie Iles, one of the youth leaders, admonished me to “pray like a young man”. Mr. “Super Young Plymouth Brother” was not receptive to this advice!

Eddie Iles and others began a Boys Club - “the Venturers”. We met in Ernie Cox’s workshop. This was not to my liking. I was hopeless at table-tennis (ping-pong), and at wood-work - one of the skills taught at “Venturers”.

(Later, the “Venturers” moved to an old Church Hall off Russell Town Avenue. My youngest brother, Martyn, was quite active there for a while. When I was maybe 23, and Martyn was 13, he mis-behaved at home. In a fit of “super-righteousness” I reported this bad behaviour to Graham Hunt, one of the Venturers leaders, stating that Martyn was not worthy to be a club member. What a prig I was. Soon after, Martyn stopped attending the Club.)

Between the ages of 12 and 15 I attended the “Bristol Boys and Girls Holiday Camp” for one week each summer. This Camp had three weeks for girls and three for boys. We camped near the seaside at Berrow Sands, Somerset, in ex-Army bell tents.

Despite being “Brethren” the camp leaders had semi military titles with the “Commandant” (Commie) in charge; the “Adjutant” (Adgie) as his assistant, and the Chaplain who was always known as “Padre” (Paddie).


Eight boys slept on straw mattresses (palliasses) in each tent. Mornings included “quiet times”, rigorous “tent inspection”, breakfast, a Bible talk, and then sports on the beach.

In the afternoon we would take long hikes - to Brean Down, to Brent Knoll, and to Burnham on Sea. At Burnham we would love to go to the ice cream parlour and eat a “Knickerbocker Glory” - a huge ice-cream in a dish, with fruit and fresh cream - costing “two and six” (two shillings and six pence - or half- a crown).

Back at Camp in the evening, after supper, we would all deploy to the recreation hut for singing, and an evangelistic talk. The hut was lit with “Tilley Lamps” (Paraffin/Kerosene lamps - pumped up under pressure) and the light and heat were intense.

Each evening we were urged to “give our lives to Jesus”, or to re-dedicate them. There was always a great amount of preaching about impurity, so many of us held out to the last night - having enjoyed a bit of mutual masturbation in our tents after “lights-out”.

But the “holiest” of us would inevitably surrender to Jesus on that last night, convinced that life would henceforth be temptation free.

And I would return home, sad as a wet cat because Camp was over; and convinced that I would stay close to Jesus, and have a daily “quiet time with the Lord”. By the next Thursday, all this was behind me, and life was back to normal - sex at the top of my mind - as for every pubescent boy!

Monday, 15 October 2007

Down the Tramway

Bristol, England, (there are 10 or 12 Bristols in the USA), is my home City.

The Bristol of my childhood and youth was yet recovering from the “Blitz” of World War II. And it had not one, but perhaps four centres.

First, there was Old Market Street and Carey’s Lane. From our home in Devon Road we would take the single decker # 83 ‘bus to Carey’s Lane. The #83 was my favourite route - after all it passed our home on Devon Road. The earliest ‘buses I remember had wooden seats, created in the War when fabrics were at a premium.

On Carey’s Lane was the old Empire Theatre - a grand building, at that time owned by the B.B.C. as a Concert Hall and Recording Studio. There, when I was 10, encountered my first urinal when my Eastville Junior Mixed School choir under Mr. Richards, recorded some singing for the B.B.C. Dad explained the urinal to me later.

Across the street from the Empire was the “Tatler Cinema” known for showing naughty movies. I snuck in there once to see a film about life in a “Nudist Colony” - all volley ball and no “below the waist” shots!

Around the corner on Old Market Street was (and is) the famous “Stag Inn”, site of a medieval market court “The Pie Poudre Court” - which survived even to my day. Opposite was the “Methodist Central Hall” , a lovely but fading auditorium style building, where Mum and Dad had attended concerts and educational courses before the War.


Second, there was “Broadmead”, the newly developing centre. It was never very lovely with its post WWII bland architecture, but it was fun to walk through the “Arcade” - a glass covered walkway from pre-war years, (with for me an exciting and sexy men’s underwear store); and also to visit the “New Room”, John Wesley’s first meeting house.

( http://www.newroombristol.org.uk/ )

Nearby was the third “centre” - the business centre on Corn Street.
There was the Guildhall, the wonderfully Bank buildings for Lloyd’s Bank; Barclays Bank; and the bank for which I later worked, The Westminster Bank at 32 Corn St.

Also on Corn Street were (and are) the Nails (see picture) where for many years business was transacted - hence “paying on the nail”.

Fourth, and finally was “the Tramways” (as the older folks would say - “I’m going down the Tramways”). Here was the true Centre of the City, which had been the main point for the “Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company”. BT & CC had a mock Tudor building with an outside Clock - hence we would say “I’ll meet you at the Tramways' Clock”.

Dad and Mum remembered the days when there were real trams at the Centre

At the “Tramway” was/is the fine Greek Renaissance Church of St. Mary the Virgin (R.C.); the wonderful Northcliffe created “Evening World” newspaper building; the statue of Edward Colston - a Bristol benefactor and slave trader; and a fine sculpture of Neptune (Bristol was a seaport City). And if we were not meeting at the Tramways' Clock, we might be meeting at Neptune’s Sculpture.

Now they say “the Centre”. But I’d love to meet you at the Tramways!

Sunday, 14 October 2007

She works at my local "Publix" Supermarket

She works at my local Publix Supermarket. She has lovely eyes and a ready smile. You cannot miss her, for she wears a long skirt, a black apron and a black headscarf. That’s not the Publix Uniform. I “knew” that it was a religious dress.

Sarasota is a home to many Mennonites and Amish in their distinctive dress. They came here first to farm the lands (Amish were especially good at growing celery).

Now they are a settled population and we are used to seeing Amish men with their long beards, and Amish women with their long skirts (riding huge tricycles rather than using horse and buggy as they do in Lancaster County PA).

And we also see young Amish or Mennonites in their conservative dress - cruising down the street on skate-boards.

Some of the Mennonites are “snow birds” - going up north for the summer and returning here for the winter. There is a special Church for them - the Mennonite Tourist Church.

The year-rounders own some good Restaurants, for instance “Yoders” where you can eat the best pies in the County; and “Big Olafs” with ice-cream “to die for”. Never open on Sundays.

But the woman at the supermarket is not in Amish or Mennonite attire.

Yesterday she sat outside Publix as she took her break. I greeted her and smiled. She smiled back - a smile from the heart, and I said “may I ask you a question?”.

“You may ask me anything" : she said. I responded To what Christian denomination do you belong, are you Amish or Mennonite?”.

“I am not Muslim” she said. “Of course” I said, “I know that”.

“Well” she said, “some shoppers just walked by me and said something about Muslims”.

Then she added, “I am not Amish or Mennonite, I am Hutterite”.

“Ah, Jacob Hutter” I said. She was surprised. “You know about him?”

I told her that I was a retired Pastor, and she reminded me that Hutterites are not directly related to Amish and Mennonites, but that they share a similar view of the Christian Faith.

Hutterites live in communities - “ colonies” they call them or “leuts”.

I went into Publix and bought a few items. When I left she was still on that bench.

“Bless the Lord O my soul” I said.

“And all that is within me bless his holy name” she replied.

You can read more about Hutterites at

http://www.hutterianbrethren.com/hutter.htm