Saturday, 19 July 2008

That fateful 'phone call

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.

Friday, 18 July 2008

We interrupt this program...

More about that ‘phone call tomorrow.

I read a number of newspapers “on line” each morning, including the London, U.K. papers “The Daily Telegraph” (conservative), and “The Guardian” (liberal). It is interesting to note their spins on identical stories.

The Telegraph has the best Obituaries. Today I read of the death of the singer Jo Stafford, aged 90.

Jo Stafford was a big band singer long before my era. She sold more than 25 million recordings, many made with her husband Paul Weston.

I came to “know her” from an old B.B.C. radio program “Family Favourites”, broadcast each Sunday. The compere (David Jacobs in later years) would introduce and play requests and dedications mailed by the public.

(Many of the requests were dedicated to military servicemen at BAOR - the British Army On the Rhine [a post WW11 occupation Army in Germany]. That dates me!)

From time to time the request would be for a recording of Jo Stafford singing “It is no secret what God can do”, or “Whispering Hope”. My parents slightly disapproved of this as Jo Stafford was not a “born again Christian”.

But I was enchanted by her voice.

Some 40 years later I purchased a double C.D. of her “hits”. I read the liner notes, to discover that Jo Stafford had lived for five years in Pittsfield, MA, where. Many years later I was Rector of the local Episcopal Church.

Well, these are the ramblings of an older man. They may mean very little to the three or four readers of this blog!

But you can read more about Jo on Wikipedia, and hear some of her songs on You Tube.

John Michael the Nostalgic!

Thursday, 17 July 2008

How I came to be in the USA (part one)

In late September 1974 two young Americans arrived at my Theological College, St. John’s College, Nottingham, U.K.

They were freshly minted from Williams College in Western Massachusetts, where they had been strongly influenced by a very evangelical Episcopal Chaplain. These two young Americans had been accepted for Ordination by the then (Episcopal) Bishop of Western Massachusetts, who had readily agreed to their requests to take some of their Seminary education in England.

They were Peter Pierson, and his wife Mary who are now semi-retired and live again in Western Massachusetts.

And Jay Haug (pronounced “Haig”) from Marblehead, MA. (These days he and his wife Claudia live in the Jacksonville, FL area, Jay has since left the Episcopal Church and is now a Baptist. He hosts a very right-wing radio “talk program”.

(Jay and I were, in some senses, “ships passing in the night”. Jay was coming from a Broad Episcopal Church tradition, and moving towards a much more conservative and evangelical stance. I was coming from Christian fundamentalism, and moving towards a very liberal place).

But “back then”, Jay and I became firm friends. Through his agency I was invited by that self-same Bishop of Western Massachusetts (Alexander D. Stewart, now deceased) to work the summer of 1975 in his Diocese.

I was a member of a team of four students who helped to organize Vacation Church Schools in Western Massachusetts parishes. After a week of training at the Diocesan Camp and Conference Centre, I worked in Greenfield, Worcester, Northborough and Oxford – each in Massachusetts.

It was a glorious summer. I loved the work, enjoyed my team members, and got to appreciate some of the finer aspects of the American way of life.

I grew a beard.

I drank root beer from an A and W road-side stand (remember them?)

I tried Tequila in an Irish pub in Worcester, MA

I went to my first drive-in movie. And ate my first MacDonalds "Quarter Pounder".

I met DeWolf and Kitty Perry, Noreen Suriner, Paul Goranson, Al & Doris Williams, and Gwen Sears – later to be important influences in my life.

I went to Tanglewood and there heard my very first “live” 9th Symphony by Beethoven – a magical evening under the stars.

I had dinner in a very snobby "Gentleman's club" in Hartford, CT, where the Maitre de provided me with the obligatory jacket, and I tried (and hated) clams on the half shell.

I recorded an audio tape for a Diocesan slide-show on “our Anglican heritage” at the home of Jim and Dorothy Sammons in Pittsfield, MA. (They were to become my parishioners many years later).

I smoked marijuana,

I “skinny-dipped” for the first and only time in my life!

At the end of the two months of Vacation Church School my then girl-friend, Anne Bonner flew in from England, and we traveled 9,500 miles around the United States and Canada by Greyhound ‘bus.

We visited Boston, New York City, Washington D.C, New Orleans, Tulsa (of all places – Anne had a pen friend who lived there), the Grand Canyon, San Francisco, Bellingham in Washington State, Seattle (where we met a young man who showed us his home City, and later was convicted of murder), Calgary (where my old friend Marilyn Draper lived with her husband), Toronto, and Niagara Falls.

I’ll never forget the overnight moonlit journey from Vancouver to Calgary, when I stayed awake in the ‘bus all night to wonder at the Rockies.

Our longest stretch was from Calgary to Toronto, 56 hours on the same ‘bus. We had to decamp in Regina, Saskatchewan whilst the ‘bus was serviced. Boy it was cold! And for some reason I always remember a stopover in Thunder Bay (Ontario?), where Anne and listened to in-booth juke-box music in a Diner. In Toronto we stayed with friends of Anne and had a wonderful boozy evening, sans memories the next moring.

I loved America, but she hated it! It was a great trip, but Anne knew that America would never be for her.

In the meantime, Bishop Stewart asked me if I would be interested in having a post-Seminary lay internship in his Diocese - just for the heck of it.

With an eye to the main chance I thanked him, but said that first I would not wish to delay my ordination, and that second I did not think that a year was long enough to enjoy and understand the American Church.

Bishop Stewart promised to keep me in mind.
I returned to England and completed my Degree in Theology. I began to look at parishes in England where I might serve as a Curate.

But then came the ‘phone call which changed my life.

More about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

An anniversary of sorts

This month marks an anniversary of sorts. I have now lived longer in the United States than I had lived in the United Kingdom.

I came here on or about July 7th 1976 when I was just over 32 years old. Now I am twice that age.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll tell you a bit of how I came to be here.

But for now, please know that my immigration to these United States has been all for my good.

I have served four wonderful parishes in Massachusetts. In the Episcopal Church I have found a freedom to minister which would most likely not have happened in the Church of England - bound as it is by bureaucracy and class snobbery. I served under three great Bishops, (and three who were “not so hot”).

My quality of life has far exceeded that which I might have expected as a Church of England Parson, so much so that I was able to retire at age 62.

My late mother was able to make at least eight visits to the States. These visits enriched her life so greatly, and she made many friends here.

Five of my eight siblings have visited me here. Each has been blessed and en-joyed by the wonderful American gifts of hospitality.

I became an American citizen in 1984. I did so under the Revolutionary War slogan of “no taxation without representation”!

When I became a citizen a local newspaper in Holyoke, MA interviewed me. One of the things I said was “when you get married, you have to develop a new loyalty to your spouse, which is greater than your loyalty to your family of origin. But that does not mean that you have to stop loving your family”.

I am happy to be an American citizen. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights are second to none. But I will always “love” the land of my birth and formation – the United Kingdom.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

On being homeless and other stuff

I did not add to my blog yesterday. This was because I could not connect my wireless keyboard via Bluetooth.

I was entirely frustrated and ready to pay big bucks to a computer guru. But I figured out the problem this morning, and patted myself on the back for figuring it out, and for saving some money.

After my Eye Doctor's exam this morning she declared that my eyes are very healthy, but that I needed a new prescription for spectacles.

Off I went to an Optician, and discovered that I could buy new glasses at a bargain price. All well and good, until I discovered that the quoted price was simply for the frame. To include (the somewhat essential) lenses would more than double the cost.

It was a bit like buying a new car at a good price, only to find out that the engine would cost more!

Eyesight is one thing, but my left hand is still swollen, and quite painful, even after two weeks' worth of oral antibiotics. I'll see the infectious diseases Doctor again on Weds 16th July, and together we'll figure the next stage in treatments.

The cats, Adelaide and Ada, give me more joy than I could have imagined.

Adelaide follows me everywhere, and is always at the front door to greet me when I arrive home.

Ada is getting more bold, and ready to explore my home. But she also spends much time on my bed. Sometimes I look around from my computer (in the bedroom), to see Ada perched on that bed, all ready for me to caress her.

I was at a local supermarket yesterday afternoon and encountered V and J, regulars at Res House.

J is a very attractive young woman. She uses her considerable sex appeal to gain "special favours" at Res. House. It works, even for old queers like me.

V. is working hard as a house painter. He is very tender with J.

They want to rent an apartment. But they still live on the streets.

They are in a Catch 22 situation.

For to rent an apartment they would have to save about $1,500 (first and last month's rent, plus security deposit).

But if you live on the streets, food is very expensive.

V and J were in the Supermarket to buy a Rottiserie chicken for their dinner. This cost them more than $6, and they had to eat it with their bare hands. That was for but one meal.

Breakfast at a fast food joint woud have cost them a minimum of $8.

Lunch would be no less than $10.

And so, my dear readers.

Try to imagine that you are a homeless couple.

Do the addition.

One of you earns about $300 per week. The other cannot find work.

It costs you at least $200 each week, simply to eat.

So you must save for more than three months to rent an apartment. Your Bank will impose extra charges, even on a savim

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Laughter in Church

I toddled down to St. Boniface Church on Siesta Key for their 10:00 a.m. Eucharist.

It was raining cats and cats (a wee bit of humour there), but that did not deter the good folks at St. B’s, so there was a good sized congregation.

I sat, as I always do at St. B’s, with my dears Adrian and Anno Swain. (I have mentioned them in previous blogs).

The Rector Ted Copeland preached. He was fresh from his European vacation.

Ted is rather shy, but put him in the pulpit, and he is hot!

He reflected on various world events from the past week.

Ted mentioned the decision of the Church of England that women priests could be ordained as Bishop.

He said something like this:

“The Church of England decided that certain members of the human race who are made in the image and likeness of G-d, could be ordained as Bishop. They happen to be practicing……


The congregation erupted with hearty laughter, and then applauded!

Hooray for Ted, for the congregation at St. B’s, and for the marvelous women Priests of the C of E.