Saturday, 3 November 2007

When I was horrible religious (3)

So there I was at aged 20, a pious Plymouth Brother preacher.

The “Peebs” had no ordained ministers, but they had full time workers who were missionaries, evangelists, or bible teachers. They were not salaried, and lived “by faith” as they would say, depending on monetary gifts from the faithful.

I decided to become a “full time evangelist” (big tents in my future!) and would therefore take myself to Bible College. For that I would need money, so I left my low pay job at the Westminster Bank to earn more money.

I took a job at a small manufacturing company by the Feeder Canal. The company made small metal components for the emerging and primitive electronics industry. My job was to collect the “swarf” (metal shavings) from under the lathes, and put them into huge centrifuges which would separate the metal from the lubricating oil. Soon I was promoted to inspect the components, using hand tools.

Then fate, or God, or my ego intervened. A “big time” evangelist Eric Hutchins decided to come to Bristol for a Billy Graham type crusade. I began to volunteer in the pre-crusade office, and mix with the “celebrities”.

The crusade came and left, and Mr. Hutchins invited me to join his “team”. Joy, oh joy.

He was to crusade in Bath (12 miles away) in about six months. I became the advance man, tootling around north Somerset and west Wiltshire on my motor scooter, and encouraging Priests and Ministers to support the crusade.

Even now it’s hard to think about this na├»ve, wet-behind-the ears, self confident young Plymouth Brother daring to encounter Oxford and Cambridge educated Priests. They were, almost without exception, gracious and hospitable.

One Priest in Chippenham told me that he certainly would not support the Crusade. I was a bit non-plussed so he reached for a “Billy Graham Crusade” hymn book. “Look”, he said, “all these hymns are about me, me, me, and my needs”. “I don’t want my congregation to attend a crusade which will be all about me, me, me.”

Another Priest asked me if I had read the recently published and controversial book by Bishop John A.T. Robinson “Honest to God”. I lied and said that I had, when in fact I’d simply read the reviews. We then had a discussion about the book, and I have never been sure if he saw through my bluff.

I visited a tiny Village near Radstock which had an Anglo-Catholic tradition. The Vicar was a sweet man, but our conversation revealed that we lived in different theological worlds. I liked him, and people pleaser as I was (am), I asked him to show me his Church and the Anglo-Catholic paraphernalia.

We walked across from the Vicarage, and entered through a side door. In the sacristy he showed me stoles, chasubles, incense pots and a monstrance. We walked into the Sanctuary and I spotted an inner wooden construction with two doors. “Oh” I said, “that must be the Confessional”. It wasn’t. It was the inner porch from the outside main door!

The time arrived for the Crusade. On the evening before “opening night”, the very Evangelical Rector of Bath Abbey offered a commissioning service. I joined “the help”, as we knelt at the Altar Rail with “the stars”. That Rector, Prebendary Geoffrey Lester, laid hands on each of us in prayer. Never before had I knelt at an Anglican Altar, and it “did something to me”, which would bear fruit much later.

My Sunday blog will be the sermon I plan to preach on Nov 4th at St. David’s, Englewood. On Monday I will go back to “further adventures with Eric Hutchins, and my downfall”.

Friday, 2 November 2007

An Ode

I'd started a blog in January, but then forgot all about it! I've been (happily) busy today, to busy to be creative, so here is my first (January) blog entry.

Philip Appleman

O Karma Dharma, pudding and pie
Gimme a break before I die
Grant me wisdom, will and wit
Purity, probity, pluck and grit
Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind
Gimme great abs and a steel trap mind
And forgive, ye Gods, some humble advice
These little blessings would suffice
To beget an earthly paradise
Make the bad people good
And the good people nice
And before our world goes over the brink
Teach the believers how to think

Thursday, 1 November 2007

The Sally and Res House

The homeless in Sarasota have a choice at night. Sleep out. or sleep at the Salvation Army Night Shelter for $10 per night.

That’s a lot of money if you are homeless and destitute.

The Salvation Army is known as the “Sally”.

I volunteer at Resurrection House which homeless people call “Res House”.

Res House during the day. The Sally at night if you can find the $10, and if you choose to sleep there.

Some people sleep out, either because they have no money, or because they hate the Sally, or because they cannot or will not keep the Sally’s rules, or because they choose to “live free”.

(Some wealthy people also choose to “live free”, but they are more skilled in covering their traces).

Sleeping out, or sleeping at the Sally, homeless people come to Res House during the day, Mondays through Fridays.

Please meet some of them.


M is in her late seventies. She receives Social Security payments. She is estranged from her son. M could afford to sleep at the Sally, but she chooses to sleep on a bench on Main Street. We worry about her every day. We think that her mind is losing stability. I call her “Lady M”, and she beams.

C is in his forties. He has a withered arm. We banter, mostly because I keep forgetting his name. Yesterday he asked to chat with me. “I was in Jail for 8 ½ years”, he said. “I am tired of living on the streets. My Momma is dead. I am all alone. I want to get sober and live in a sober house. I am tired of this life. You are my friend”.

I prayed with C, beseeching the Holy One to open the doors to a sober house for C.

J is first in line every day. He sleeps behind a Church three miles from here. He begins his walk to Res House at 4:00 a.m. He has no front teeth. We do his laundry, and he is in and out of the shower in a trice. I envy his daily good cheer.

He is excited these days as he has an offer of six months of work at a farm, 120 miles south of here. He is happy for he will be paid, and will live in a trailer on the farm. I pray that his employer will be compassionate. I will miss J.

B is in her mid 70’s. She sleeps out with her boyfriend M who is some 30 years younger than she. They arrived one morning covered with mosquito bites, from head to tail. We call her “Grandma”. She is so wise, so intelligent, so worldly wise. She knows so much about life and living.

B’s boyfriend M goes to the Labor Pool each day, hoping for a day of work. He is not always successful.

D is a handsome six footer in his late 20’s. He is so pleased that I remember his first and last names.

I was “bored” last Tuesday, so even though was not “my day”, I stopped by Res House. I think that the Holy One drew me there.

D wanted to pray with me. He’d heard of a fundamentalist Church which owns 4 duplexes and sleeps 16 homeless men. He so much wanted to live there, even though the “rules” would be tough.

I prayed with him. I prayed with him “a fundamentalist prayer” that the God who moves mountains would move so that D would be accepted to the Duplex.

On Wednesday he told me that he had been accepted. But he did not have the $2 to buy a ’bus pass in order to get to the house (some 4 miles away). I broke the rules of Res House and “slipped him” the two bucks.

Such is life at the Sally and at Res House.

============================================================

See this for a 2006 report on homelessness in SRQ.


http://www.sarasotamagazine.com/Articles/Sarasota-Magazine/2006/Summer/Lost-World.asp

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Out of sorts

I was feeling a bit out of sorts today. I overslept, and as a creature of habit, that set me off on the wrong foot.

For once I was finding it hard to be relaxed and patient at Resurrection House. The House was mobbed, partly because this was “‘bus pass day” when subsidised weekly ‘bus passes are sold for $2. That always draws a crowd.

Another agency was in the House, offering free AIDS tests, with a bonus of a $10 supermarket gift token for those willing to be tested.

That drew another large crowd. Anxiety levels were high, no one wanting to miss out on the ‘bus passes or the supermarket gift tokens. (Would I queue for 2 hours to get a $10 voucher?)

One guest became verbally abusive when I caught him “jumping the shower line”. And my dear B, a woman in her seventies was asked to leave as she was breaking one of the rules - an important rule. But I hated to see her leave in tears.

I came home quite “grumped out”. I’d been invited to a Hallowe’en party, but I wanted to stay home. I farted and fretted around, trying to work on a sermon for next Sunday when I am preaching at St. David’s.

But I went to the party. One man came as a quite convincing Mozart costume. He was delighted when I identified him as Wolfgang, so I told him that my name was Salieri. Keith was dressed as a quite convincing Queen Mother. Barbara and Kay came as Nuns. My “costume” was minimal. A Red Sox hat, and a Red Sox sweater, with a sign attached “I love to scare Yankee Fans”.

I am glad that I went to the party. But it was very low key. There was good food and good company, but the atmosphere was quite muted.

Then I “got it”. Our friend Bruce was not there. He would have been the life and soul of the party, with his jokes and endless stories. Everyone wanted to be near Bruce.

Ben, Bruce’s partner and I left early. We’d had a good enough time, thanks to our gracious hosts, but something had been missing.

We miss Bruce so much. I miss Bruce so much. I HATE the fact that he has died.

Maybe that’s why I have been out of sorts all day.

Other Bishops &c


In 1971 I was “approved for training” as a Church of England Priest. The Bishop of Bristol, my home Diocese, was the Rt. Revd. Oliver Tomkins, a distinguished ecumenist. Bristol was, and is thought of as a second rate Diocese, and this appointment was not considered a plum.

I never met Dr. Tomkins as all his “discernment” work was handled by a Diocesan Director or Ordinands.

My first D.D.O was Geoffrey Paul, later to become Bishop of Hull. (His daughter Jane is the wife of the present Archbishop of Canterbury).

Canon Paul left Bristol, and I was now supervised by Canon Peter Coleman. He was a straightforward Priest, and a fine theologian. He later became Bishop of Crediton.

So off I went to Seminary in 1972, having never met my Bishop.

In 1973 Bishop Tomkins hosted the first South West Ecumenical Congress in Bristol. All his seminarians were drafted into service, and as a car owner I was designated as a chauffeur.

On a Saturday morning I was sent to the Bishop’s House to drive a luminary to a SWEC event. Dr. Tomkins himself answered the door bell, and I quickly exclaimed my mission.

He went back into the House and emerged with my passenger, introducing me as if I were a long lost friend! That was the only time I met my Bishop!

But my passenger. He was none other than the amazing Dutchman Dr. W.A. Visser’t Hooft, the first General Secretary of the World Council of Churches. Awe and wonder on my part!

Speakers at SWEC included Archbishop Michael Ramsey, and the ecumenically minded Cardinal Suenens of Belgium. The Archbishop and the Cardinal were great friends and they did a regular dog and pony show. Even today I can hear Cardinal Suenens say “You ask me the secret of my peace and joy. The secret of my peace and joy has a name : - Jesus Christ”.

Towards the end of the Congress I was asked to drive the very great Russian Orthodox Archbishop Anthony Bloom to Temple Meads Railway station, where he was to catch his train to London.

We arrived early and paced the platform, awaiting the train. We passed a “hippy” a decked out in hippy fashion.

“Good gracious” the Archbishop said in his rich Russian accent, “whatever does he think he looks like?”.

I paused for a moment, looking at Anthony in his black cassock, tall hat, and long grey beard”.

Then I dove in! “Well Archbishop” I said, “perhaps he is looking at you and thinking ‘well whatever does he think he looks like?’”

The Archbishop roared with laughter and told me “you are right”,

Two follow ups.

On that railway platform, Archbishop Bloom asked for what I needed prayer. I told him that I had a very unhappy relationship with my youngest brother. Within a year Martyn and I became best friends, which we are to this day.

Whilst as Seminary, Archbishop Michael Ramsey visited to give us a retreat. He became available for personal counsel, so I “signed up”.

I had no idea of the type of spiritual counsel I wanted, I just wanted to meet THE GREAT MAN.

When my time came I soon realised that Michael Ramsey was incapable of small talk (which is what I really wanted!).

So I muttered something inane about my prayer life, and then knelt to receive his blessing! Exit left!

Monday, 29 October 2007

Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Boston Red Sox

A frequent reader of this blog asked me by e-mail if I had ever met Archbishop Desmond Tutu (see “Silence equals “Consent - below).

I heard him speak when I was a Deputy to the General Convention of 1985 in Anaheim, CA. (I roomed with my recently deceased friend Bruce Wirtz at that Convention).

Bishop Tutu was electrifying. There was a large crowd in a Hotel Ballroom, and he stood us on our heads.

About three years ago the Archbishop was in residence for a semester at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, just down the road from my parish, St. James’s.

I was at lunch at E.D.S. one day with one of the Professors, my friend the Revd. Dr. Andrew McGowan. Archbishop Tutu came into the refectory, and I said to Andrew “would it be gauche of me to ask you to introduce me to the Archbishop”.

“Of course not” replied Andrew, and he walked me over and introduced me to +Desmond.

After a bit of chit-chat I did the customary thing, and asked Archbishop Tutu to give me his blessing.

I knelt, and he blessed me. An holy moment.

As I rose to my feet, Archbishop Tutu immediately knelt and said “now please give me your blessing”. I could barely pray for the tears.

A bit later in the year I was at my Dentist’s office on Massachusetts Avenue, being worked on by a new Russian born hygienist.

She asked about my Church, and I told her that it was an Episcopal Church. That meant nothing to her!

So I asked, “have you heard of the Archbishop of Canterbury?” She thought that she had.

But I tried a different tack. “Have you heard of Archbishop Tutu?”Yes” she cried out, “he was here!”.

It transpired that the Archbishop needed some dental care, and had been referred to my dentist Dr. Greene. I chatted with him about the Archbishop, and he told me of the great excitement in his office at +Desmond’s visit.

Dr. Greene said “I expected him to arrive in a limousine with a body guard. Instead, he ambled up Massachusetts Avenue wearing a Red Sox jacket” !!

Smart man that Archbishop!

Sunday, 28 October 2007

A bit about my home City

Bristol, England people have always taken great pride in their City. It has an old maritime and trading history and was so prosperous by 1373 that it was made a County. Hence I grew up not in Gloucestershire, nor in Somerset, (the adjoining historic Counties) but in the “City and County of Bristol”.

Nonetheless, the Gloucestershire County Cricket Club played its home games on the “County Ground” in Bristol, and the Gloucestershire Regiment (the “Glorious Glosters”)had their chief Barracks in Bristol.

There are at least 10 "Bristols"in the U.S.A, one indeed in Florida!



Bristol was a slaving port, and Massachusetts State Representative Byron Rushing (an expert on the slave trade) tells me that “Bristol Shackles” were highly prized.


Bristol was an entrepot for wines, tobacco and cacao: hence the Bristol of my youth was famous for Wills’ Tobacco, Fry’s Chocolate, and Harvey’s “Bristol Cream” Sherry. (Bristol, believe it or not, still has ancient wine cellars on Denmark Street).

Proud as my family was of Harvey’s, Wills’ and Fry’s, we had a special liking for Bristol ‘buses.

Chassis and engines (Bristol or Gardiner) were made or assembled in Brislington, Bristol and then driven the some 240 miles to Lowestoft, Suffolk to be outfitted at the Eastern Coach Works.

So these good ‘buses were made in Bristol (where we lived), and in Lowestoft, where Mum had been born. They were “our” ‘buses.

These ‘buses had first been made by and for the “Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company”, founded by Sir George White who also created the Bristol Aeroplane Company.

The successor Companies to B.A.C. (as we knew it) included Bristol Siddeley Engines, later part of Rolls Royce Aero Engines. If the jet ‘plane in which you fly has R.R. engines, they were most probably designed and made in Bristol!

B.A.C. also created the wonderful Bristol Cars. These hand-crafted cars are still manufactured by the now independent and very small Bristol Cars Limited.

(see http://www.bristolcars.co.uk/index2.htm )

Later the ‘bus making venture was spun off into Bristol Commercial Vehicles, which was eventually purchased by Leyland Motors, in turn a part of Volvo ‘buses. Many of the Volvo rear engined ’buses now in service were originally designed in Bristol.

If you are in a resort area and see a red, open topped, double decker ‘bus for tourists, you are likely to say “Ah, a London ‘bus”.

But check the engine grill. It is probably a “Bristol”. You will indeed be “Ship shape and Bristol Fashion”.