Dad was an amazing high jumper. He won the AAA championship in Crystal Palace with a jump of 6’1” which was his own height. He did so in the days before Fosbury Flop was possible because one had to land in a sand pit!
Dad was a gentle man who felt and thought deeply about the needs of society and especially teenage children who struggle behaviourally due to family problems or other issues. Having trained as a solicitor, he longed to work with social services. He was a man of great integrity who was not afraid to speak out if he felt compelled to do so on a point of principle, but he found animosity very hard to cope with. I wish with all my heart that this integrity had rubbed off on me more, as it did on Nicola. What did make a deep impression on me was the intimacy of the love that he knew with his heavenly Father and Shepherd of his soul, Jesus Christ. My bedtime prayers and little conversations with Dad introduced me to the Lord of all compassion and mercy, whose heart was tender to all that he had made, yet was furious about the suffering of the innocent and so passionate that no one should be lost to Him that he came to die in our place. I was given the children’s Bible on my Christening day, July 21st 1974 (which to this day Mum gives thanks for by lighting the original candle that she was given with these words from the baptism liturgy ‘ ‘ ). I remember looking through my Bible with Dad and coming to know through its pages the living God who parted the Red Sea to save his people; who saved Daniel from the lion den and who was with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the furnace; who helped a Shepherd boy defeat Goliath and lead a nation; who was merciful to Jonah and to Nineveh; who leaves the ninety nine to search for the one lost sheep; who never gives up on the Prodigal son or the legalistic and insecure elder brother who is struggling to accept a love that’s not earned; who calls us to have fearless compassion, kindness and generosity like the good Samaritan and the widow in the temple, who Jesus knew had given all she had. I knew that this was a living God because he sent his only begotten Son to be one with us in every way, to face every temptation we face, to be baptised of water and the Holy Spirit, even though he was God, and to die for us and rise again – the moment in history that changes everything. I didn’t learn doctrine systematically but in the very Anglican way, I think, of liturgy and worship. These are the two hymns from Holy Trinity Cuckfield that I am very formed by:
There Is A Green Hill
There is a green hill far away,
outside a city wall,
where our dear Lord was crucified,
who died to save us all.
We may not know, we cannot tell
what pains he had to bear;
but we believe it was for us
he hung and suffered there.
He died that we might be forgiven,
he died to make us good,
that we might go at last to heaven,
saved by his precious blood.
There was no other good enough,
to pay the price of sin;
he, only, could unlock the gate
of heaven and let us in.
Lord Jesus, dearly you have loved,
and we must love you too;
and trust in your redeeming blood,
and live our lives for you.
Lord Jesus Christ you have come to us
You are one with us, Mary’s Son.
Cleansing our souls from all their sin
pouring Your love and goodness in
Jesus our love for you we sing,
Lord Jesus Christ now and every day
Teach us how to pray, Son of God.
You have commanded us to do
this in remembrance Lord of you
Into our lives your power breaks through,
Lord Jesus Christ, you have come to us
Born as one with us, Mary’s Son.
Led out to die on Calvary,
risen from death to set us free,
living Lord Jesus help us see
You are Lord.
Lord Jesus Christ I would come to you
live my life for you, Son of God.
All your commands I know are true,
your many gifts will make me new,
into my life your power breaks through,
When we were ready to pray, Dad would fold his hands around mine and say “My hands around your hands, God’s hands around our hands.” His hands around mine spoke of the security of faith. We often said Psalm 23 together as a prayer, and to this day I pray it in my mind (in the authorised version of the Book of Common Prayer that Dad loved so much) at times when I need courage and assurance. I remember praying it on the start line of my Boat Race in the nervous moments when the coxswains are trying to line their boats as the stream of not so still water gushes beneath the boat. Dad would always finish with the Lord’s Prayer and the blessing given to Aaron:
The Lord bless you , and keep you : The Lord make his face shine upon you , and be gracious unto you : The Lord lift up his countenance upon you , and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-26).
I have always found this to be a comforting reality. Nicky and I like to think that as Jesus intercedes for us in heaven (Hebrews 7:25), Dad’s prayer is the same for all of us.
Thanks to my father and my heavenly Father and the example of our vicar who visited us the morning Dad died to convey such compassion and assurance that dad was safe in the Father, I felt a call from God to be a parish vicar; to share this love and conviction of the sure and certain hope that only Jesus can give us at times such as this. Later on this calling deepened through the profound experience of serving Him as an acolyte in the preparation of the bread and wine to remember together the Lord – one full and perfect sacrifice. I felt the truth and reality of what we were participating in. Likewise, at baptisms I felt a tangible sense that the reality of Jesus’ resurrection life is present to us by the Holy Spirit in a profound way as we turn from death to life in repentance and faith, confessing the gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord – my Lord and Saviour, my God. I am so thankful for God’s grace in leading me to know his way, truth and life from these formative moments, and I thank God for a mother and father who were committed to bringing Nicola and I up in a loving Christian home.
Dad was 42 when I was born and whilst he loved to recount the scrapes that he and his brothers Norman and Raymond would get up to as children, I knew very little of his late teens and adult life until after he died when we found a photo album he had made and a drawer that was full of athletics and National Service awards for physical training and marksmanship. There was a collection of pocket diaries from his 20s that mainly had a record of the score of the Saturday game of ‘rugger’ for Old Reigatians! But there was an odd comment here and there which gave me treasured insights into what he was up to in work, church and socially. One comment that spoke of his awe of the nurses he had met over the years, and how he would like to marry a nurse, always used to make me happy because of course a decade later he met Mum in Oxford, where she was working at the Radcliffe Infirmary and he was working as a trainee social worker. They were married a few months later and set up home in Headington, where both Nicola and I were born.