The Flock That Christendom Forgot: An Animal Padre’s Uphill Pilgrimage
Well, I swore silently to myself that if given the post as Rector
of Royal Deeside I'd diplomatically (never my best quality!) seek an
ally in Princess Diana. She'd recently opposed her husband concerning
blood sports - swore she would never take part in them again - after
having slain a graceful stag and been overcome with remorse.
However, things were not to be. By a very close margin (according
to the Bishop!) the vacancy had gone to the other candidate: a
delightful fellow, indeed, whose affinities and interests may have
made him more appropriate for such a post. Yet this Scottish bishop
was still anxious to acquire my services. Would I not seriously
consider being the Diocesan hospital chaplain with several others to
assist me? Well, I again gave much time to soul searching and prayer!
The post was accepted and the day arrived - quite a sad one indeed
- when the furniture was transferred onto the van from that lowly
terraced house in Dewsbury, one which now held memorable associations;
and not least, of dear Tibby, the stray cat from the defunct mill
who’d, according to a neighbour, ‘adopted me’ by appearing on my back
doorstep around four years previous. Yes, but a few months later (as
previously mentioned in this serialisation) was lost - never to be
seen again - until a later dream assured me he was in Paradise.
From Woollen Town to Granite City
Canon Tom Sharp, the Dean, had come to see me off with tears in his
eyes - for four years we'd shared our prayers together and interceded
most days for the needs of others throughout the vast area of Dewsbury
and beyond. I now thanked God for him, and thanked Jesus for all the
way He had led. Indeed, one's move to Dewsbury had not been one of
humiliation after all. It had, unknowingly, been the beginning of a
glorious exaltation. Strange and wonderful are the ways of this
wonderful God! And what an honour to be in His service!
Doreen and myself, we moved from Dewsbury to 'Granite City' where, as
well as being senior hospital chaplain over the diocese, I would once
again swing incense, ring bells and give Benediction, this time as
part time priest-in-charge of St Clement's in Mastrick, another
Yes, great and wonderful work would be attempted
for humans as well as animals, and the latter would reverberate from
Scotland to Germany. But alas, for my dear and wonderful helpmeet,
Doreen, a clergy house and district in which to live, as far removed
from Royal Deeside as the moon is from cheese.
Yes, and more
disturbing still: on visiting a ward of the Royal Infirmary - around
three months on! – a most courteous and yet disturbed patient said: “I
recognise YOU!” “You so badly let us down! We voted for YOU. It was
you we wanted and Not the other fellow!” She was one of the past
committee from royal Deeside. Well, I did the best one could to
explain, and hoped she would pass the message on to the rest who’d
taken part at that warm and homely meeting.
Where the Kirk Rules
Aberdeen, or Granite City as it is commonly called, was certainly cool
and very bracing. The state church of Scotland: rigidly Presbyterian
and commonly referred to as The Kirk, had a tremendous influence for
good over the whole of Scotland. As an Anglican cleric coming up from
'south of the border" I quite envied their Ministers. A Vicar down in
England is frequently cause for a music hall joke and the majority of
folk who call themselves 'Church of England' hardly ever attend –
apart, ofcourse, from hatches, matches, and dispatches (i.e.
christenings, marriages and funerals!).
However, the clergy in
Scotland - during those 1980s - were revered and respected. It would
still be considered very bad taste if one were to speak disparagingly
of a Parish minister; and indeed, every school in Scotland had its own
chaplain who could wield great influence amongst the young.
Consequently, I quite envied these clergy of the Kirk; and what is
more, they always had the influence and wisdom to screen an Epilogue
on television each night, as well as a Thought For The Day each
Off on a Unique Pilgrimage
Indeed, my own opportunity
to write the 'God Slot' or present an evening epilogue came at a most
convenient time following a few days in the Scottish capital of
Edinburgh; for there I'd knelt at little Bobby's grave, just near the
entrance of Grey friars church yard (the actual setting for the Walt
Disney film. Grey Friars Bobby). Sadly, it was several yards away from
the consecrated area where his master had been laid to rest; for this
little Cairn Terrier could - under no circumstances - have been buried
near humans! The Kirk – comprised of such godly folk! - would have
seen to that!
Well, there I interceded towards God and told Him
that I wanted to do a work for animals in memory of such a creature
whose presence and blessing I now felt so extremely close and real. I
asked myself, was I not in a unique situation? Had not God guided me
out of several Christian denominations into other ones for a purpose?
How was it that in a search for a deeper and all-embracing Faith I had
passed through the successive stages of first being a Baptist Pastor;
then a Congregational minister; a Church Of England curate; a Rector
of an Anglican Church whose ceremonial was 'down in the cellar'; then
a Vicar of a church in which the ceremonial was as high as the Vatican
itself? And now, here I was up to Scotland as a Scottish Episcopalian
hospital chaplain. Yes, and glad to minister to those of every faith
and equally to those of none!
It was equally becoming more real
than ever: the purpose Almighty God had behind it. In a quest to leam
from other strands - and a growing realization that other branches
were not so much contradictory as complementary - I'd come to the
conclusion that all strands had abysmally fallen short of what God
required of them: All branches of Christendom shared one frightful and
unforgivable omission! They had interpreted God's compassion,
salvation and redemptive plan as if it were only applicable to humans.
Indeed, as if the only life that mattered to God was that of depraved
to be continued...
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