Saturday, 30 April 2011

Never better

The Revd. Gwen W Sears is a friend and former colleague. She ‘phoned today to let me know that Philip Foster Desch had passed from this life at aged 90.  The lovely and wise Claudia Curry also called.

Phil Desch was a member of St. Stephen’s Parish in Pittsfield, MA. I can say, with no reservations, that he was beloved by all.

Phil grew up in Wisconsin. He was proud to tell one and all that he was adopted.  He worked for the General Electric Company in Schenectady, NY and in Pittsfield, MA.

Phil never married.He shared a home with his mother Lillian Desch.  She had passed before I became Rector at St. Stephen’s, but from every account they had a delightful and gracious mother/son relationship.

Phil had already retired by 1984 when I moved to Pittsfield. He had a lovely home on William Street.  He was active in retirement as Board member of the Visiting Nurses Association.  I recognised his skills and wisdom and asked him to join our Vestry.  He agreed, and soon became the Junior Warden, with especial responsibility for the buildings.

That led to a most remarkable partnership between Phil and the parish.  After his term as Junior Warden he became the head of the Property Committee, and he made this a six mornings a week ministry.  We gave him a desk in the parish office – a desk at which he sat every morning except Sundays.   

He enabled so many wonderful improvements to the buildings (and was more than generous in his monetary gifts to property repairs and renovations). With Phil in place I never had to worry or fret about property issues.  He took care of it all!

I am supposing that Phil began this ministry in about 1988.  He was faithful to it until just a few months ago.

But it was more than about property. Phil became a fixture in the parish office, where his wry humour and liberal politics enlivened our lives.  And a couple of families (the Currys and the Sulocks) adopted Phil as an honorary father and grandfather.

I have more memories of Phil than you would care to hear.

But here are a few of them.

1.    Phil loved his late afternoon/early evening martinis.

2.   One of our sextons (John Stockley) always referred to Phil as “Doc”.  Hence we often called Phil “Dr. Desch”.   He would grin and say “yes, I am the house Doctor” (a reference to his role as the expert on property issues).

3.    Phil enjoyed an American candy called “Nips”.  We always made sure that there was a box of these candies in his desk drawer.  Phil would grin and say “do join me for a nip”.

4.    He always sat in the front row of Church on the “Gospel side”.  On my most recent visit back to St. Stephen’s (2007) I made certain to sit in that pew alongside Phil, and Jim and Dorothy Sammons.

5.    Immediately adjoining St. Stephen’s church on Allen Street in Pittsfield is the old fire station.  After being derelict for many years the building was purchased and renovated by the Berkshire Bank.  This bank retained the exterior of the building with its stone engraved sign “PFD” (i.e. Pittsfield Fire Department).  Phil Desch insisted that the “PFD” referred to him “Phillip Foster Desch”.

6.    Phil and I would always celebrate Bastille Day (Lord knows why) – and listen to the exciting musical arrangement of the "La Marseillaise" by Hector Berlioz.

7.    He had some catch phrases.  One was “Excelsior” and/or “Onward and Upward”.

8.     But it took Gwen Sears to remind me of Phil’s most famous and frequent line. When any of us asked: “how are you today Phil?’ he would invariably reply “never better”.

9.    Gwen and I agreed that the most fitting epitaph for our beloved Phil is “never better”.

Friday, 29 April 2011

A wedding in London, U.K.

From Ted in Alaska: “Was there a wedding or something today?
 My reply: “Yes. And hundreds of thousands of poor people died of malnutrition

From a former parishioner, Joseph Anderson: "What if we cared about the hungry as much as we do about a wedding and a birth certificate?"

From my nephew Mike Povey in England: "It's not 'The Royal Wedding'. It's 'Who can wear the most ridiculous hat?'."

Nuff said.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

On "oldie" which visited me today

So, this song would not go out of my mind all day.  It's a classic. Check it out at

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Wisdom from the Pentagon.

The Emperor Nero may or may not have fiddled whilst Rome burned.  But political discourse in America has become a distracting and increasingly irrelevant side-show.

As Republicans lurch from the right to the far right their standard bearer (for now) has become that well known huckster Donald Trump.

The “birthers” will continue to follow their weird mythology, whatever the facts.  “Birthers” have next to no interest in facts. The one fact which motivates their daily visits to Fantasy Island is that our President is black skinned.

Members of the Tea Parties oppose every tax in sight, whilst gobbling up the benefits and services which taxes enable.

Libertarians continue with their self cantered and self absorbed piety.

My Democratic Party folks in Congress have lost their cohones.

Our good President still tries to build consensus. Sooner or later he will have to understand that when we make a pact with the devil, the devil always cheats and wins.

In the midst of all these “noisy gongs and clanging cymbals” there is one “still, small voice” which comes from the Pentagon.  Here is a report about wisdom from the highest levels of military command in these United States.

Thank goodness for sanity from the "Brass".

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Ah well!

There’s nothing like expecting guests to make you realise that your windows haven’t been cleaned in a couple of years, and that your sheer curtains are truly quite dirty.

Ada is a sweet cat, but she decided last night to poop all over her bed. (That’s a good argument against having pets share one’s own bed!) I suspect that Ada had sneaked some of the dog’s food (which she often tries to do), and that it had upset her stomach.

So, I bought one of those micro-fibre dry mops a couple of years ago - ----- the sort where you can take the cloth bit off a plastic template to launder it.  I needed a new cloth mop head, and have been to five stores to get one.  Not a chance.  The mop’s plastic template has been re-designed, and the new replacement cloths won’t fit.  I think that manufacturer’s do this on purpose to make us buy a whole new mop rather than a replacement part.

I am tired of being asked if I will get up early to watch the “royal wedding” on T.V.  I wish that my good friends and neighbours would get it into their heads that not all British born people are fervent monarchists.  The wedding is just about the last thing I would care to view, it’s right down there with conversations with libertarians, or speeches by Donald Trump!

I made various soups during the winter, and froze the leftovers. On discovering that I had six containers of frozen soup in the freezer I decided that this would be soup week.   But I had not labelled the containers. So each evening bring forth a “surprise soup” -  it will be fish soup tonight.

Monday, 25 April 2011

The outrage of Guantánamo reveals the ugly side of American foreign policy

Guantánamo reveals the ugly side of American foreign policy:  aided and abetted by peace and justice loving folks as the Chinese, Tunisians, Moroccans, Russians, Saudis, Tajiks, Jordanians, Algerians, Yemenis and Kuwaitis.

Those of us who believe in the hard worn freedoms of “habeas corpus” should be utterly opposed to the horror of this American prison camp on Cuban soil.

Those of us who are Episcopalians frequently say that we will “respect the dignity of every human being” (c.f. our Baptismal Covenant - for what it is worth).  We have nice words, but we fail to understand their political potency, and are therefore mute in the face of the criminality  of Guantánamo.

Muslims must surely look at outrageous Guantánamo, and perceive that American (i.e. “Western”) values are inherently anti-Islam.

Realists understand that the American President’s authority is limited. Try as he might, President Obama cannot force the closure of Guantánamo. The Congress has determined otherwise.

So we progressives must witness against Guantánamo, and pray that our President would kick ass.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Back again!

I was the rector at four parishes in the episcopal church between July 1976 and June 2006.  That means that I fretted and fussed about the services for thirty maundy thursdays, thirty good fridays, and thirty easter days.

It is good that I fretted and fussed, for my goal was to help enable the very best which was possible in liturgy, music and preaching, in four very different parishes.

I wanted the very best in liturgy, music and preaching.  

I am not so sure that I wanted the very best for G-d’s people who worshipped in those congregations. 

I wonder if I was so concerned with “getting things right” that I lost sight as to the reasons for getting it right – i.e. the praise of G-d and the edification (building up in faith) of G-d’s beloved people in those congregations.

My questions must await the judgement of G-d.

Now, in retirement, I’ve had five maundy thursdays, good fridays and easter days as a retiree.  

Someone else had to fret and fuss about these services.

With that in mind I was at my parish for the simpler services of the season: -  10:00 a.m. on maundy thursday (at which I preached), 7:00 a.m on good friday, and 7:45 a.m. this morning (easter day).

Not everything was to my liking, but that did not matter.  My job was to relax and pray. 

I was able to do that (though not perfectly!)

My beloved Rector will retire on May 15th.  He is a good and holy man. 

He is also as much a fretter and fusser as I ever was!

I pray that within a year or two he will be able to simply relax and pray on our holy days.  It’s been good for me!