Sometime in 1975 the Bishop of Bristol, who was the Rt. Revd. John E Tinsley “released me”: meaning that I was free to look for a parish anywhere in England. That was just as well since he had never met me! (All his work with Ordinands was delegated to a very wonderful “Diocesan Director of Ordinands” the Revd. Peter Coleman - later to become Bishop of Crediton, Devon).
I was to have followed the normal English practice of being a Curate, that is, an assisting Priest, who would serve under an older and presumably wiser Priest.
I interviewed in a parish in Sneyd Park, Bristol, knowing that I was an unlikely bird for such a place. It was a rather snooty parish, with a decidedly evangelical Rector.
Next was a parish in Birmingham. There I liked the Rector and the people. We could have been a good match.
Finally I was interviewed in Swindon, Wiltshire at the parish of Christ Church. This was an exciting parish in an area of ecumenical experiment, where the local Baptist and Methodist ministers regularly celebrated the Eucharist in the Church of England. The Rector was a personable soul, the Revd. Canon Derek Palmer. He and I agreed that I would be a good fit in this parish. But I had one caveat which I expressed. “There was”, I explained, “a slight chance that I would be offered a job in the States”.
We agreed in principle that we would work together, but nothing was signed, sealed or settled.
Then came the ‘phone call. I was at lunch one day at St. John’s College, Nottingham when a student came bursting into Refectory announcing: “Michael Povey, there’s an American Bishop on the ‘phone for you”.
I raced to the ‘phone and heard the familiar voice of Bishop Alexander Stewart at the other end of the line. He asked me if I would come to Massachusetts and be in charge of a small parish in Fitchburg, MA., on a two year contract.
“Wheeler/dealer” that he was, he had it all figured out, and had gone so far as to rent a small apartment for me. He darn well knew that I would not refuse!
The parish was to be the Church of the Good Shepherd. The Priest in charge, about to retire, was that same DeWolf Perry with whom I had spent a wonderful afternoon the previous year.
Bishop Stewart had offered me to the parish “sight unseen”, and DeWolf Perry was able to reassure the parishioners saying “I met him last year, and he will be fine”.
Of course there was the small matter of Canon Palmer and the Swindon parish. With knocking knees I ‘phoned to say that I would not, after all, be coming to Swindon. Bishop Tinsley also had to give permission, and that was a cinch as he did not care one way or the other.
So I began to plan my move to the States. There was one major glitch which could have de-railed the whole plan, and I’ll tell you about that on Monday.
Came the time for my pre-Ordination retreat, and I noted with some trepidation that Canon Palmer was to be the retreat leader. How embarrassing.
After dinner on the first evening of the retreat, Canon Palmer asked to speak with me privately.
He took me into a small room, and announced that he had been made Archdeacon of Rochester (Kent, U.K.) and therefore my plan work with him in Swindon would have failed even if I had accepted the job.
He wanted me to know this, so that my mind would be a rest throughout the retreat. Then he swore me to secrecy, saying that apart from officialdom, his wife and I were the only two to know of this new appointment.
His revealing of this confidence to me was so entirely kind and gracious.