Sunday, 27 December 2009

Jane Williams

I am either blessed or cursed with the ability to remember the slightest details – details of events/incidents/conversations which reach back for at least 60 years.

Such memories are often triggered when some song or other surfaces in my mind, and then in my voice.

As I was walking Penne today, a song from the pen of an iconoclast, William S Gilbert (he of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) came to mind. It’s from the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta “The Sorcerer” (1877). In that operetta the song is assigned to the ageing clergyman Dr. Daly, who reflects on his days as a young Curate. The lyrics are reproduced below. As you read them, do remember that W.S. Gilbert was poking fun at the Clergy. The song is known as “A pale young curate”.

The memory of the song took me back to the time when I was a theological college student in England.

Soon after Christmas (1973 or 1974) I was selected, together with other students from St. John’s College, Nottingham U.K. to attend a conference at the lovely “Lee Abbey” near Lynton in north Devon, England. ( At that time, Lee Abbey offered gentle and refreshing conferences post Christmas each year, for British theological students.

On the final evening of the conference we were asked to participate in a “talent show”. The St. John’s students decided to sing - even by then the very dated Gilbert and Sullivan song - “A pale young curate”.

We did so, and the Warden of Lee Abbey glowered at us. After the talent show, we discovered that our song was in fact his “party piece”.

That Warden was not given to scowling. He was a gentle and loving Christian who had been a missionary in India. Following that he became a Canon of Bristol Cathedral, and was the Diocesan Director of Ordinands when I first began to explore ideas of ordained ministry.

In the midst of my explorations he hoved off to Lee Abbey, and I was shepherded by a new D.D.O.

That former missionary, Canon of Bristol Cathedral, and Warden of Lee Abbey was a Priest named Geoffrey Paul. After Lee Abbey he became Bishop of Hull (U.K.) but died suddenly and prematurely.

Geoffrey Paul and his wife had a daughter whom they named Jane. She became an excellent theologian.

These days she is known as Jane Williams, and has two children.

You may have heard of her husband. His name is Rowan, and he is the Archbishop of Canterbury!


The daft old song.

Time was when Love and I were well acquainted.
Time was when we walked ever hand in hand.
A saintly youth, with worldly thought untainted,
None better loved than I in all the land!
Time was, when maidens of the noblest station,
Forsaking even military men,
Would gaze upon me, rapt in adoration –
Ah me,
Ah me, I was a fair young curate then!

Had I a headache? sighed the maids assembled;
Had I a cold? welled forth the silent tear;
Did I look pale? then half a parish trembled;
And when I coughed all thought the end was near!
I had no care – no jealous doubts hung o’er me –
For I was loved beyond all other men.
Fled gilded dukes and belted earls before me –
Ah me,
Ah me, I was a pale young curate then!

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