They read their bible every day / and always, night and morning, pray. These words from John Betjeman’s poem, Diary of a Church Mouse, summed up my childhood view of vicars – holy people living perfect, trouble-free existences unlike the rest of us whose lives are often messy and complicated. I now realise that vicar’s lives are no different from ours. Talking with Ann Leonard, a retired vicar on St Faith’s ministry team, I discovered that her life and path to the priesthood was far from trouble-free.
Born in Mansfield, Ann lived with her parents, an aunt and her older sister, Judith. Money was short but Ann passed her 11+ and went to a girl’s grammar school where she described herself as being a tomboy and a rebel, more interested in pop music, boys and bunking off school than studying. From school she went to the North West Polytechnic studying English, French and German literature but failed to complete her degree after becoming pregnant and marrying her first husband. During this period she managed to combine raising her first three children, David, Richard and Catherine with studying for a Psychology Degree through the Open University and becoming involved with the local church visiting the elderly and teaching at Sunday school.
They moved to Cosham where Andrew was born. Ann continued with church work and, among other things, became Christian Aid representative for Portsmouth. She increasingly felt called to serve the church but wasn’t sure how. In 1990 she qualified as a counsellor and was persuaded by her vicar to offer herself for the ministry. Ann began training at Salisbury but, after only twelve months, had to take a year out when her marriage broke down. Forced to leave the family home she lived temporarily with a friend and worked to save sufficient money to rent an empty vicarage in Milton where she lived temporarily with Catherine and Andrew. By this time David and Richard were living independently. A year later she resumed her studies, completed the course, was ordained deacon in June, 1994 (the year when the first cohort of women priests was ordained by the C of E) and became a stipendiary Priest in 1995.
For two years Ann served at St. Cuthbert’s church, Copnor and then at St. Andrews Farlington and Church of the Resurrection, Drayton where she took groups on visits to the Holy Land and Middle East. On one such visit, in Istanbul, she met the Rev. John Preston. They became friends, eventually married and lived together at Selborne where John was vicar and Ann was Assistant to the Dean of Petersfield. During this time Ann studied for an MA in the Psychology of Religion at Heythrop College, London University. She served for twelve years as vicar of the two parishes of St Peter’s and St. Andrew’s, Haying Island, before retiring and moving with John to Lee.
We are very fortunate at St. Faith’s to have Ann on our ministry team. Her sermons are entertaining and instructive. She and John led a Spirituality course which several of us enjoyed and gained from. At the time I didn’t realise how much she had to overcome on her path to the ministry. I’m sure Ann and John do read their bible every day, and always, night and morning, pray, but do I believe vicars live holy, perfect, trouble-free lives unlike the rest of us? After hearing Ann’s story, definitely not!
Are you a man looking for something to do? If so, the Gosport Shed might be for you. Starting in Australia the Men’s Shed Association soon spread around the world as centres where men, retired, widowed, depressed or seeking company could meet to employ their practical skills or simply socialise. It was Brian Cox (one of St. Faith’s ministry team and featured in May’s Big Voice) who suggested a visit and introduced me to Roy Sparshott (far left in the photo), the shed’s vice chairman who gave me a tour and told me all about it.
The Gosport Shed occupies a beautiful location by the water on St. Vincent’s 36 acre campus and comprises a social centre, a well-equipped workshop and storeroom. It began in May 2013 when Martin Carrick, a retired university lecturer, arranged an open meeting. 35 people attended including Roy, Gosport and Hampshire councillors, NHS representatives, veteran’s organisations and the local MP, Caroline Dinenage. The project was unanimously supported and 8 men joined on the spot.
Helped by the GVA (Gosport Voluntary Action), a place was found at Fort Brockhurst where members refurbished it and renovated the toilets and kitchen. After a year with growing numbers more space was required and St. Vincent’s Principal offered a redundant classroom. Numbers continued to grow and so, with the Principal’s consent, the committee raised funds, acquired a metal portacabin for £2,200 and, using their own expertise, linked as an annex to the existing structure
The original building now with the portacabin attached provides the social centre opened 5 days a week where members meet to chat over coffee and biscuits much of which is donated by Southern Co-op. There are currently 120 members with an average of 40 members attending every day. People from all walks of life, rich and poor, skilled and unskilled, meet to talk about anything and everything other than what they did before they retired – a subject rarely mentioned!
Those interested can take advantage of the well-equipped workshop. Currently only 20 or so make regular use of it. As well as making things for their personal use they help out various organisations in need of their skills. They recently refurbished the Georgian lamppost outside St. George’s barracks. For those who like gardening there is plenty to do. Apart from creating a boules course, gardens and maintaining the grounds, members also work in the community and are in discussions to maintain flower beds and repair a telephone box in the Alverstoke area.
The shed raises money at local events and arranges members’ activities including barbecues, boat rides, trips and classes (e.g. cookery). It really is a magnificent place for men to be. More than just a shed, it offers all that a man wanting company could wish for. If you’re interested ring them on 07852 452664 (weekdays, 9 am and 4 pm). You won’t be disappointed and you’re sure to make new friends.
Vicar Condemned by High Court Judge. What kind of man meets his future wife climbing Ben Lawers and asking a woman he’s only just met why she’s wearing flip flops? Or who, as a vicar, allows a farmer to brew the communion wine and, during a service, hears an explosion as the fermenting wine sets the bottle corks flying? What kind of vicar is told by the late Lord Denning (High Court Judge and Master of the Rolls) to ‘Give us time young man,’ when the vicar politely asks his congregation not to turn up late for the service? The answer in each case is the man I sit next to in church every Sunday, Peter Garratt, a vicar who’s now retired and has a thousand stories to tell of his life in the church.
I recently spent the morning with Peter and Dorothie Garratt hearing about their lives together. Peter was born in the village of Fishpool (now named Ravenshead), Nottinghamshire. His father was a textiles worker. Raised with David, his younger brother, (who also became a vicar), Peter left technical school and, like his father, worked in the textiles industry. Always a churchgoer and choir member, his path to the ministry started after a holiday with a Christian community at Lee Abbey. Wanting to gain more qualifications he worked as a hospital porter, studied at night school and, eventually, gained a place at the London College of Divinity to train for priesthood. It was before going to college, on a holiday climbing Ben Lawers, that he met Dorothie, a theatre sister in flip flops from Dublin who, later, became his wife.
After leaving college he moved with Dorothie to his first curacy at St Mary’s and All Saints, Bingham where they lived in a sixteenth century cottage and Dorothie gave birth to their two children, Helen (now a Health Visitor) and Ruth (now an Occupation Therapist). From Bingham they moved to Mansfield where Peter completed his second curacy before being appointed as vicar to St Andrew’s, Batley, West Yorkshire and spent much his time on race relations work. After five years at Batley the family moved to St Oswald’s, Kirk Sandall, home of the Pilkington Glass factory. During their time there the church became redundant and a new one, The Church of the Good Shepherd, was built nearby with a church school attached. It was there where the farmer’s communion wine corks exploded during a service.
The penultimate move came as something of a culture shock when Peter left the Industrial Midlands to become the Visiting Chaplain to Osborne House and Rector of St James, East Cowes and St Mildred’s, Whippingham where Queen Victoria worshipped when in residence on the Island. At the time of Peter’s incumbency, Osborne House was used as a convalescent home for retired officers and other dignitaries. Being infirm they often turned up late for matins, hence Lord Denning’s remark, ‘Give us time, young man’. The word ‘time’ stuck in Peter’s mind, especially as Lord Denning had sent people down during his illustrious career.
From the Island, Peter moved to Soberton where, after fifteen years as vicar of St. Peter’s with Holy Trinity, Newtown, he eventually retired and served for a while on the ministry team at St Faith’s. Apart from seeing him at services I would often meet him riding his bicycle or pushing it along the prom at Hill Head. Since then he and Dorothy have become true friends. Dorothie, as well as being a vicar’s wife, has served the church in its healing ministry and has an equally fascinating story to tell which I hope to feature some day. Meanwhile she sings with the choir on Sundays while Peter and I sit together enjoying the service, commenting on the sermons and testing each other on who composed the organ music. Dorothie trusts us to be on our best behaviour in church and, for the most part, we try not to let her down.
I was keen to meet Brian Cox, not the astrophysics professor of television fame but someone far more down to earth. The Brian I wanted to meet was a retired priest whose sermon about his work as a Street Pastor in Southampton aroused my curiosity. He agreed to be interviewed and we met on a dark, cloudy day at St Faith’s Community Centre with no chance of seeing any stars! He’d brought with him a lengthy manuscript for me to borrow entitled For God’s Sake Let Me BE which he’d written on a sabbatical and which I found to be a refreshingly honest, challenging and forthright account of his life and experience as a church minister.
I warmed to Brian as soon as we met, partly because we shared a lot in common both having attended secondary modern schools and both having come from working class families (his great grandfather, grandfather, father and uncles were railway workers). Born at Eastleigh and raised with two sisters, Brian broke with the family tradition and, at 15, became apprenticed to a printing firm but continued to develop his interest in art at night school. He subsequently worked for other printing firms but, with changing times and modernisation, he experienced redundancy and after a chequered career, returned to the firm where he’d first been apprenticed but now as a Partner.
It was during this time, married to Lysbeth with two grown up children, Sadie and Andrew, that he was drawn to the priesthood being concerned about the people around him who were disabled, disaffected, disadvantaged and largely overlooked. After several setbacks he eventually gained a place on a part-time course at Salisbury Theological College, sold his house, gave up his job and became a curate at St. Peter’s church, Maybush. Southampton. From there he spent several years at Andover before returning to Southampton as rector of Christchurch, Freemantle where he eventually retired in 2014.
Always believing in action rather than words, this last period of his ministry gave him the chance to serve as he’d always wanted to serve in a practical way. The Street Pastor movement had long been established in London and other centres. Its creed was simple: Listening, Caring, Helping, a creed I suspect which exactly chimed with Brian’s view of what the church should be doing. Concerned with excessive alcohol and drug abuse on the city byways, the street pastors’ job was to be there, voluntarily, listening, caring and helping. With Southampton in need of such a service, a meeting was held which Brian attended and, after considerable administrative obstacles, led to a street pastors’ group being formed with Brian as one of its members.
Groups of five, on cold, winter nights, would be out in the city from 10 pm – 4 am scouring dark unlit side alleys looking for people in trouble and doing whatever they could to help, sometimes calling the paramedics or taking them to a place of safety and always leaving a contact card in their pockets for future help if required. It was, for Brian, a hands-on way of serving the church and offering aid where it was needed.
Since retiring from full-time ministry, among other activities he chairs Lee Art group, assists the ministry team at St. Faith’s and attends Gosport’s SHED (a group I hope to feature one day). I doubt that he’ll ever really retire. I hope he doesn’t. I’ve rarely met anyone who has given so much and from all I’ve learned of his work and passion for practical service, I’m certain he has more to give. As for his manuscript, I’d love to see it published. What I’ve written here gives only a glimpse of his views on the Church and his experience, with the support of his wife and family, in its service.
My heart leaps up when I behold / A rainbow in the sky. I couldn’t help thinking of Wordsworth’s poem as I listened to Jean Hedley telling me all about her love of nature and the outdoor environment which, along with art and painting, has been one of her lifelong passions and one which she and her late husband, Richard, have championed throughout their lives. Both were committee members on the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust and keen to promote the value of outdoor education and conservation. Since Richard’s death Jean has continued to support the cause by setting up with her family the Richard Hedley Fund which supports posts for young graduates to work for the Trust developing and spreading their knowledge of conservation and the environment in Hampshire.
Jean, the youngest of three children, was born in Kent but moved with her family to Scotland at the age of three and was schooled in Glasgow. On leaving school she wasn’t sure whether to study art or work with children. She chose the latter and, after working as a nursery nurse in Glasgow, she moved to Newcastle to train as a teacher and stayed with her eldest married sister, Margaret, whose house adjoined the vicarage. It was during this period that the vicar invited her around to watch a prom concert on the television and there it was that she met a vicar’s son, Richard, which, so she told me, was the best thing to have happened in her entire life!
They eventually married and, both being teachers, moved to Hampshire with their first child when Richard secured a teaching post at Prices College. They immediately fell in love with the local countryside and the sea. Richard later met a member of the newly-formed Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust at Hill Head. He invited him back to the house and, as a result, he and Jean became members themselves. Over the years the family grew and Jean now has three children, six grandchildren and a great grandson who can be seen in the pictures on the wall in the photograph.
Throughout Jean’s teaching career she encouraged children to learn about and appreciate the outdoor world whilst continuing to work for the Wildlife Trust eventually taking over the chair. Among other things she organised fundraising activities including a dinner hosted by Lord Caernarvon at Downton Abbey. She was honoured for her work in conservation with an MBE at Windsor Castle where the Queen told her how much she liked Hampshire. She was also invited with other Trust members to meet Prince Charles and see his wildflower meadow at Highgrove.
None of this, however, is what Jean wanted me to focus on. Her main concern was for me to share and promote her love of nature and conservation. On the 1st and 2nd of April between 10 am and 4pm she will be holding a Wildlife & Wilderness Art Open Gallery at her house to raise money for the Wildlife Trust and Richard Hedley Fund when local artists will contribute their work. On May 16th there will be another fundraising event with a talk on Native Orchids at the Wallington Village Hall, Fareham. Please look out for these events and support them if you can.
Jean’s passion for wildlife was infectious. When I told her I once spotted a nest of hungry skylark chicks in the grass she looked thrilled and said, ‘Write about – share it!’ Sharing the message is clearly Jean’s life’s mission. When I left and walked home in a downpour I felt uplifted and found myself thinking My heart leaps up when I behold / The raindrops on my brolly. I can only hope that her work with Richard encourages others to love and care for wildlife as much as they have.
There’s a wise old saying that if you have only two pennies to spend, one should be spent on bread to keep you alive and the other on flowers to make life worth living. St. Faith’s church, like so many churches, is all the richer and brighter for having displays of flowers throughout the building and people who care enough to purchase, arrange and display them week after week and year after year.
Back in September 2013, I wrote about the Flower Festival marking the church’s 80th anniversary. Every corner and niche in the church was filled with flower displays on different themes ranging from the Garden of Eden to Air Sea Rescue. As well as delighting all who came, £3,000 was raised for the church and its work. Three years later, Margaret Hunt, the flower team’s chairperson (photographed in the middle of the back row, face half-hidden), invited me to one of their regular meetings to find out more about the flower team and its work the normal course of a year.
Until that meeting, my knowledge about the team was scanty to say the least. Sometimes during the week if I dropped into church, I might see two or three ladies snipping away or arranging blooms though I never took very much interest in what they were doing. My own flower-arranging skills are confined to hacking off stems and plonking the bunch of flowers, just as it comes, into a vase. I am also guilty of often attending a church service and leaving the building without having noticed what flowers were there. But, in mitigation, I am beginning to notice more and, since the meeting, appreciating the time and effort that goes into all of different displays around the church.
The meeting, like all good meetings, began with conversation, coffee and biscuits. I wasn’t sure what I’d be writing about but expected to list the names of the members and write a little about each one. The plan worked well at the start when only four people were present. Two had been members for just six months and the other two for longer than either cared to remember. But one by one, others turned up and when seventeen eventually arrived, I realised that even listing their names let alone writing something about each one would leave little room for anything else. So, I sat at one of the tables and gleaned what information I could from the meeting.
I learned that the full team of twenty is subdivided into five smaller teams, each working for two weeks at a time. As well as providing displays throughout the year for the Sunday services, the flower team plans and creates displays for the three main festivals, Easter, Harvest and Christmas. At this particular meeting for example, a collection of dried fir cones had been donated with Harvest (and Christmas Fayre decorations) in mind. As well as the main church festivals, the team also plans and provides displays for Armistice Sundays and other special occasions including weddings whenever requested.
Much of the meeting concerned itself with accounts, possible future purchases (mini clippers, flower oases, etcetera) and general discussions. But what I took from the meeting was sheer admiration for all that the flower team does and gives to the life of the church. If nothing else, I shall never again take for granted the time, creativity, effort and skill that each one of the team members gives. And I’d like to think I won’t be entering or leaving the building again without being fully aware of the flowers and noticing every display. And in the event of my ever becoming an expert flower-arranger, who knows, I might be the first of many men to join the team.