Letters From Brian, Our previous Minister

Recent copies of the letters from our previous Minister Brian. These are reproduced from the monthly Newsletter..

November 2022: From the Minister's Diary

Mae West said ‘keep a diary and someday it will keep you’. The wife of one of our MP’s published a diary recently which rather rocked a few boats and almost certainly got them off a few Christmas party lists.

People often say to clergy, doctors and teachers, “ you should write a book”. Quite a few have and just to be clear I sold the film rights to mine years ago. I hear Tomasz Schafernaker will be playing me. The bible has a few diaries if you think about it. Dates, plans, intensions. Genesis1:3-2:3 Creation – Universe- worshipers - two specifications. Note to self: get rid of that horrible snake before it does mischief, .etc Day Seven rest. When you look at the Gospels there are touches of a dairy, get born in Bethlehem, book kind innkeeper as parents have not booked room, full choir to visit shepherds. Ensure the shepherds can gossip about what they see. Arrange exit route for Wise Men and Family.
I have been glancing at my diaries of the last twenty years.

You may know that when I was in stationing in 2002 I asked for seaside ministry. I did my placement for college in Western Super Mare though the church was quite a way from the sea. In 2002 I was offered Bridport which came with two other chapels, Westbay; Uploders. It was a good appointment and they offered me the job. I asked for time to think about it but after a few days of not being able to imagine myself in such a big main church, I gently said it was not my calling. Thus I was a little taken aback when John Carne our Chair offered me Sidmouth. Surprised in the fact the two churches shared the same Circuit which bore their names. John said it wouldn’t be a problem and indeed it was not except the first three visits to a church at the Bridport end I was greeted with the words “Ah the Minister who turned us down” and said by the same Steward.

I knew Sidmouth from the ministers’ retreats held at Sidholme. I had seen the church with its good position but of course that was before the Foyer. On the overnight stay and interview we brought Charlotte and Emily with us. We came first to Sidford and met the folk there. We then came down to Sidmouth where the hall was packed out (it still had the stage). The walking group was waiting having rescheduled their manoeuvres for the afternoon. Dear Alan Hunt asked me if after all my heart surgery it wise to ride a motorbike (I thought he was a plant from my Mother). I was also asked if I swore which was not a question I expected. I don’t but they had a sound reason for asking. The room seemed full of retired ministers but there was a real feeling of fellowship and good humour. We came and saw the manse which was light and airy with good garden space and built for purpose as our previous manse had been. It is virtually in town centre and well placed for church and the sea front. We are so blessed to have raised a family in such a home and to have been granted the time here. We saw Ottery and were asked to consider coming. John Carne was delighted to hear we had accepted and were over the moon. Sara got a job share with Dr. Jo Kinder the week after. I came over on the bike a couple of times to decorate before we moved and the Circuit had fitted units in the study which also went in the Seaton Manse. In the previous Circuit they had quite limited resourses but did what they could. We decorated the house ourselves and when I came here I did the sitting room and dining room late at night and even after a church council so the paint would dry before the children were on the go. It was the end of Folk week when we arrived, the town was packed and cars were everywhere but the neighbours had done a sterling job keeping a place for the vans. The next evening our Nanny brought the girls over from North Devon. They played with the empty boxes and after they went to bed the fireworks started for the end of Folk Week. They stood on the beds watching and after a moment they said ‘this is because we have come’ We didn’t have the heart to say no. Two weeks later they thought the red arrows were the latest treat. Work began but not before the welcome service that was held at Bridport. Oh yes, He said no to going there but the induction was there because Bridport is a joint URC and has to have the Moderator in their church. Everyone was very welcoming and Kath Baldwin was definitely the right person for the appointment.

Back in Devon The choir was still very much a part of the worship at Sidmouth and they were still in a room where the vestry is now located and the gents and disabled toilet housed the vestry.

I can remember the first morning very clearly, the choir in blue robes some of them still wearing the matching hats, their excitement and the sea of faces as I went out into a packed church for the first of many services is one of those good memories to keep handy. The Choir at Harvest donned their red Winter robes When Easter came round there was a note the week before to say ‘Next Week the Choir will turn blue!!’. One evening the Steward for the Vestry prayer used the phrase ‘ We thank you for the Life of Brian’. He was told after by his wife why we could not keep a straight face. At that time nearly all the stewards were couples or at least I thought they were as they always served together. The church had a number of new people moved to the area and choosing to worship here. Singing the Faith came out but having seen it and wanting to have flexibility I suggested we get a screen. In the South West there were virtually none. Council asked for a feasibility study, it was two inches thick and Ken Rothwell could have gone on Mastermind on the subject. That said we have the same projector today that went up seventeen years ago. We hosted Keswick in Devon for two years and the singing was amazing because people were looking up. Now screens are everywhere but it was a talking point for many visitors and I had calls and visits from people wanting to know more about this new feature.

The Foyer had been on the ‘must do list’ for a while, three ministers had tried to get it beyond the in-tray. Having had fun and games in the previous appointment with property, I prayed for solutions and recently joined members and the brilliant people already here set to work. There was good communication and consultation. There was even a model for people to see what could be. People were very generous and we left decisions to the appointed group. I can remember standing across the street when the hoardings came down and watching people stop and admire the finished item. People had often said where is the Methodist Church? Considering the size of the place it seemed an odd question, but people knew after seeing the new frontage. It was done without lottery money and was paid for by the day it opened and it won several awards.

Later we gave a home to the Parish Church while their building was undergoing renovation. We changed the time of our morning service so they could have their main service before ours. It worked very well and we managed never to double book the place during their stay or have two brides at the same alter

We also gave a home to Woolbrook school when their heating went down during a period of snow. The stewards set the three halls with tables that made the rooms look like the United Nations. The staff loved it as the rooms were much warmer than the school had ever been. The School nativities came to the church when All Saints was being refitted.

Despite being a coastal area Sea Sunday or St. Peters Tide services had never been done in Sidmouth. It is my favourite service of the year. Apart from lockdown there has been a Sea Sunday every year since 2004. As a result Sidmouth lifeboat asked me to be their chaplain and it’s included blessing two new support boats; one tractor; a jet ski and the ‘Pride of Sidmouth’ replacement. I visit the crew on their practise nights and I have had the privilege of taking funerals for supporters and past crew members.

We began the healing services. We also began to hold the annual church weekend with over 70 people attending and yet leaving a good sized congregation at home for any visitors. I led the first four in St Ives or Torbay before we started using Lee Abbey.

We are so glad when we read peoples stories and remember what happened in faith it needs telling and sharing to encourage others

To be continued after the Christmas edition

Every Blessing

From Our Previous Minister, Brian
People often say to clergy, doctors and teachers, “ you should write a book”. ....