Thank you, Alan!
Those of you who are regular readers of this column will, like me, have been disappointed to read that Alan has decided to lay down his pen – at least as far as the Big Voice is concerned. On taking on the mantle, I wanted to speak to Alan to find out a bit more about the man behind that pen.
Over the 8 years Alan has written this column, small snippets of his life have been shared with us as he empathised with many of the people he had met. We have found out that he was a teacher, and it was his vocation that brought him to Gosport to be Headteacher of Siskin School before heading up a middle school in Southampton. Alan came with his family, and his two sons remained integrated into his life in Lee-on-the-Solent when his marriage broke down and his wife moved away. He remembers fondly the many cycling trips he took with the boys around the local area.
Alan was candid about telling me that the breakdown of his marriage as a very low point in his life, however he is thankful for the wonderful things that can happen in a life which may seem bleak in that moment. First, he experienced the joy of discovering the very real and deep love that God had for him. From that moment, Alan has lived out his faith and love for God. This was somewhat unexpected, for although he had accompanied his wife to church for many years, he confessed that he mainly went to keep her company and for the music. An accomplished musician himself, Alan was the choir master at Holy Rood for some time.
Soon after, Alan met and fell in love with Isabel, who was his partner for the next 30 years until she died. He counts himself fortunate to be a part of the lives of his own and Isabel’s grown up children, as well as remaining on good terms with his wife. It is a mark of Alan’s gentleness, grace and humility that these relationships are so strong.
Although living in Lee-on-the-Solent, it was Alan’s passion for writing which led him to St Faith’s. He picked up the weekly notes one day and saw that there was a competition to write new words to a hymn tune. It will be no surprise to you to learn that he was a winner! To receive his award, he was invited to Southsea Common for the diocesan centenary gathering of churches with members of his own church. Although not a member at the time, the people in St Faith’s were delighted to share in his success! They welcomed him in and he soon became an integral part of the community of St Faith’s.
Before bringing our conversation to a close, I asked Alan how he would like to be remembered. Having given the matter due consideration, he remembered what his pupils had said of him when he retired , that ‘He makes us laugh’. He hastily told me he wasn’t a comedian – presumably he didn’t want to raise expectations – but think I understood. He wants to share the humour he finds in life as it unfurls around us, and invites us to smile with him.
Alan, thank you for the last 86 columns, and we wish you a long and happy retirement.
Signing Off: Fare well and fare forward!
How time flies! It was in November 2008 that one of the first editions of Big Voice dropped though the letter box of Peter Sutton, St.Faiths vicar before Paul Chamberlain. After receiving it, Peter cheekily wrote a Christmas Message to the editor to see if it might be a helpful extra. To his absolute surprise it was included in the next issue and followed over the subsequent four years by 45 further articles until his final contribution in November, 2012, before he moved to the Isle of Wight.
Much to my absolute surprise, he caught me after church one Sunday before he left and asked if I would take over writing for Big Voice when he’d gone. I wasn’t sure what I could write about but having been assured that it would only be for a couple of months until the new vicar was appointed, I agreed to fill in the gap. When I mentioned to a friend that I’d been asked to take Peter’s place, the reaction was abrupt and immediate: ‘What! How on earth can you do it?’ I was asked, ‘You’re not a vicar!’
A little alarmed by the response, I called at the Vicarage, more for reassurance than anything else, and suggested to Peter that I might write articles on people who served both within the church and in the wider community. Much to my relief he condoned the idea and in January 2013, my first article appeared. The ‘couple of months’ however stretched into many, many more before the new vicar, Paul, arrived. When he did, he seemed quite happy for me to continue with the articles which I was happy to do. Since that first article in 2013 I’ve written 85 more until this one, my 86thth, over 7 years later. During that time Big Voice has undergone many developments including transforming its format from a relatively small magazine to a much larger, attractively produced one, a change of editors with Coralie handing over the reigns to Gemma and, in the past year, the challenges presented by the Corona virus pandemic during which, apart from one month when it appeared online, it has managed to keep going in its printed form.
The experience of representing St Faith’s church in the monthly magazine, as well as being a privilege, has been really enjoyable and informative. I’ve been able to meet and interview a wide range of wonderful people who have done so much for the church and for the wider community. Over countless cups of coffee, cakes and biscuits in people’s homes, local businesses premises, schools and elsewhere, I’ve met more people in the last 7 years than I ever expected. From talking to young children in our local primary school to a churchgoer who’d just celebrated her 100th birthday, I’ve been able to hear about and report on their different experiences, life stories, present circumstances and hopes for the future. But all good things must come to an end or, at least, to new beginnings.
After much thought and with my 80th birthday less the two years away, I’ve decided the time has come for a new voice and a new direction and that this will be my final contribution. At the time of writing there is no firm decision on who will be taking over but optimistic negotiations are currently in progress. If no decision has been made by next month, Paul Chamberlain our vicar will take my place in the meantime. I’m sure that he will give you lots to think about and, hopefully, a permanent replacement will be writing for you before long. I should like to thank Coralie and Gemma for their help and for giving our church space in Big Voice. Thanks also to everyone I’ve met and interviewed and those of you who’ve been reading my contributions over the last 7 years. Keep reading! I’m sure that whoever takes over from me will have much of interest to say. Meanwhile I shall be joining the readership and looking forward to hearing whoever that new voice will be representing St. Faith’s church and keeping us up to date on all that is happening.
At the start of a New Year someone suggested I could write about the role of St. Faiths as a Parish Church and the services it offers to everyone in the parish whether they are churchgoers or not. St Faith’s is open daily for anyone to visit. You might simply want to walk around or spend time sitting in silence to be with your own thoughts. Just inside the church to the right you can light a candle or write a request in the ‘Prayer request’ book. All requests recorded will be prayed for at the weekday morning and evening services.
In normal times, hopefully soon to return, the church runs activities to support parents with young children and people looking for company and companionship. Rainbow Toddlers is held on Tuesday mornings in the Bulson Hall when parents can meet each over other over refreshments while their young children enjoy themselves with toys and activities under the guidance of friendly, welcoming helpers. From time to time there are parenting courses for the parents of children at different ages On Thursday afternoons also in the Bulson hall (2 pm – 3 pm), Cuppa and Company caters for those seeking companionship with others over a cup of tea whilst Knit and Natter (which I attend though only to natter!) meets in the Lowry Room on Thursdays 2 pm – 4 pm) where a friendly group of people enjoy each others company over cakes and tea whilst knitting for worthy causes.
As well as its normal daily and Sunday services (8 o’clock communion, 9.30 Parish Eucharist, Sundays@11 and 6 pm Evening Prayer), the church is also there for Weddings, Christenings and Funerals. By request, ashes can be laid to rest in the Remembrance Garden and names of loved ones recorded in the Remembrance Book (on display in the Lady Chapel). Annual services are held on or around All Hallows Day for those wishing to remember loved ones. Anyone in the parish who wants to know more about these services can contact the church office.
Activities organised by outside agencies include Dancing, Fun and Fitness, Pilates, Yoga or Zumba for those wanting to keep trim, Jiggly Wrigglers for pre-school children, Choir for those who enjoy singing together and Art classes for aspiring artists. The Parish Centre is also available for celebrations, receptions, meetings etc. in the Bulson Hall for larger gatherings or the Lowry room for smaller groups. In addition to having well-equipped kitchens and toilets there are plans to provide a bar and to update other facilities in keeping with modern requirements. Bookings can be made through the church office when activities restart.
Information on all activities and who to contact can be found in the leaflet rack just inside the church porch along with information on other events. The church website at www.stfaithslee.org.uk also offers up-to-date information all that’s happening.
If you, or anyone you know, wan to take advantage of anything we offer, please do and spread the news. Hopefully there will soon be something for everyone, young or old, whatever their circumstances, needs or interests. The Church and Parish Centre is there for the whole community and eager to be used. So when and if things return to normal, we hope to see more people making use of their Parish Church.
Meanwhile, on behalf of everyone at St. Faiths, I wish you all a happy and healthy New Year or perhaps I should say, ‘New-Normal’ Year!