THIRTY FOUR YEARS ago today I travelled South by train to Salisbury, one of England’s most beautiful Cathedral cities, to be blessed by the immense privilege of three year’s residence at 19 The Close, and early theological training for the priesthood.
There will hardly have been a day since then when I’ve not thought of Salisbury and of the blessing of those three years – amongst the happiest of my life. The coffee-roasting shop at the Cathedral Close gates, the clock chimes, the train journeys down to Canterbury, my old green Morris Traveller – ah! – the good times.
Many the words of the Principal, Canon Reginald James Albert Askew, that have echoed in my heart and mind across the years; frequent the memories of Old Testament tutorials with Michael Sadgrove, New Testament with George Brooke, gifts of heart and mind and soul and strength shared by Bishops of Salisbury George Reindorp and John Austin Baker, and by Bryan Pettifer, Ian Dunlop, Dean Sydney Hall Evans, John Fuller, Angus Galbraith, John Goodall, Bill Jacob, Beatrix Mackey, Iris Murdoch, Alvyn Pettersen, Rosemary Pugh, Archbishop Michael Ramsey, Roy Royle, David Stancliffe, W H Vanstone, Derrick Walters, Bishop Ted Wickham, Jeremy Younger – Chas, Helen, Pat Adlam and other members of a dedicated and affectionate house team, and oh so very many more. And I still wear the beautiful alb made and exquisitely embroidered for me by Ada Gething, a wonderful parishioner of Bemerton, determined to finish her gift properly though by then almost blind. She certainly finished it, and I’ve never needed another.
Reggie Askew wrote, so far as I know, just one book, The Tree of Noah, a novel. I treasure a copy. From page 51 –
The freedom of God is at the back of what we mean when we call him Creator. The freedom of God is what rescues you also. It rescues you, incidentally, out of the hands of the church and the preacher. It is what allows everything that is within you, undomesticated and of infinite promise, everything you would call your wildest hopes, to stand before God and recognise its source.
What a teacher! He despatched me and my contemporaries to the work of the church and the preacher with those very words. I have not forgotten them. The freedom of God and the wisdom of Reggie Askew have often-times rescued me from myself.
With some of my peers I’m headed for Durham, in November this year, to share reminiscences and renew old friendships – in company with our then Old Testament tutor, now the Dean of that great Northern city. Literally we stand with angels and with archangels, messengers and encouragers, on earth and in heaven. Salisbury & Wells was one of the great joys of my life. Thirty four years on it still is. And so many of the people important to me then are important to me today. Still in my prayers. Still in theirs. Grateful for love’s lessons learned. Pretty good going.
Thanks be to God