Saturday, 2 January 2010

A friend of mine is honoured.

It was with pleasure that I read last year’s Christmas letter from my friends Les and Jeni Harman. I have known them since 1976 at which time Les and I were classmates at St. John’s Theological College, Nottingham, U.K.

Jeni and Les have three children, Daniel, Thomas and Jane. I try to visit the Harmans when I am in England, and one year, Jeni, Les and Jane spent a week with me in Pittsfield, MA

Both Les and I were raised in the Plymouth Brethren, he in Liverpool and I in Bristol.

Les has served congregations in London, Surrey, Devon and Hertfordshire. He is at present the vicar of St. John the Baptist Church in Royston, Herts.

He is one of those un-flashy, un-pretentious, intelligent and hard working priests who are admired by all. He has done a terrific job of being a husband a father, and a parish priest - in that order.

Last year the Bishop of St. Albans named Les as one of the Honorary Canons of the Cathedral. This is a splendid recognition of the faithfulness and integrity of Les’ ministry. I am pleased to be able to address him as Canon Harman.

To be named a “Canon” in the Anglican Communion does not indicate a “greater status”. It is in fact a job description. Canons are those who share in the governance of Cathedrals.

Cathedrals have “Canons Residentiary” - women and men who serve in a paid capacity on a Cathedral staff, and “Honorary Canons”, of which Les is now one. There is no extra pay!

Here’s a bit about the derivation of that word “canon”

This word is derived from a Greek word denoting a reed or cane. Hence it means something straight, or something to keep straight; and hence also a rule, or something ruled or measured.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Her name is Marlene

Her name is Marlene. We first met about three years ago, in a supermarket. It’s one of those upscale places with over-priced organic produce, dairy products and meats, but also with an amazingly good selection of cheeses. I was the customer. She is a check out cashier.

Marlene’s accent sounded vaguely English, but as we began to chat she told me that she is from Malta. Marlene is the only Maltese person I’ve ever met. She lives in SRQ with her husband.

Her presence radiates with happiness. She has a ready smile which she is always glad to share. I’ll wait in line at her till even if other lines are empty, this for the sheer pleasure of seeing her.

There was a period when I thought that she had left the store. It turns out that she had tried her hand in the store’s kitchen. It was to my immense relief that she decided that the kitchen was no place for her, and she returned to the check-out.

I saw Marlene today, and waited in her line despite the “shipping order” which was being rung up for the customer in front of me.

We enjoyed as much “visiting” as was possible on a busy store day. Then she came out from her till, wished me a “Happy New Year” - and then hugged me.

That was a wonderful way in which to say good bye to 2009.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Once in a blue moon

I understand that “blue moon” is what we call the second full moon in a calendar month. So tomorrow’s full moon will be a “blue” moon, and it will be on New Year’s Eve. What fun: “once in a blue moon” on December 31st 2009.

The “almost blue moon” was spectacular tonight as I walked with my dog. It was twilight. The air was crisp. Sister moon shone so brightly in the eastern sky.

Looking west, the sky was golden yellow, with a string of off-white clouds. The trees were in silhouette.

The mallards were already resting at pond-edge. Eight restless muscovy ducks waddled towards us with all due speed, hoping for handouts from the human and canine walkers: - ducks doomed for disappointment.

“G-d’s” creation was indeed beautiful, leaving me to “give thanks to him – the Giver good”.

And yet - I could not but forget that “G-d” is an artist who does not finish her work.

So much of the beauty that I enjoyed was the work of human hands:- the human made pond, the silhouetted roof tops, and the Christmas lights outside many homes. That led me to be deeply grateful for those human endeavors which lead to so much beauty: - paintings, music, fine buildings, gorgeous bridges, and exciting skylines.

“Praise G-d” is often on the tongue of religious believers.

“O.K”, I suppose, “but praise humans too”!

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Dr. (Samuel) Johnson

“On Point” is a rather good radio programme which emanates from station WBUR in Boston. I often listen to the programme from  my car radio.

The topic today was a new biography of Dr. Samuel Johnson, by Jeffrey Meyers.  The programme may be accessed at:

It put me in mind of some of the pithy and wise “sayings” of Samuel Johnson.  Here are some of them.  (The final one is my favourite).


One of the disadvantages of wine is that is makes a man mistake words for thoughts.

None but a fool worries about things he cannot influence.

The future is purchased by the present.

I deny the lawfulness of telling a lie to a sick man for fear of alarming him; you have no business with consequences, you are to tell the truth.

It is unjust to claim the privileges of age and retain the playthings of childhood.

It is better to live rich than to die rich

Pleasure is very seldom found where it is sought. Our brightest blazes are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.

If a man does not make new acquaintances as he advances through life, he will soon find himself left alone.

Nothing at all will be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome.

When two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather.

We would spend a lot less time worrying about what people thought about us, if we realised how little time they spent doing it.

Monday, 28 December 2009


Doritos -   oh how I want some Doritos!

I have forsaken my favourite unhealthy snack for more than six weeks, in favour of some weight loss.

I am munching celery, and grapes.

  oh how I want some Doritos!

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!