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A thought from Revd Paul Lanham

Dear Friends,

Two wheeled sports fascinate me at the height of the summer – both of them mad in their very different ways. June brought the Isle of Man TT motorcycle races, where people hurl their machines around a 37-mile circuit of country roads at speeds that approach 200 mph in places. As one of the probably few clergy to have reached 80 mph on both two wheels and four (in both cases many years ago on deserted motorways when the police were mercifully absent) I know how exhilarating both experiences were but also how conscious one is of the narrow line between life and (at best) serious illness so how anyone can make a living doing that speed is beyond me.

In July there is the month long Tour de France cycle race. Not because I am a cyclist, because I'm not. Incidentally it is a myth that you never forget how to ride a bicycle. I learned how to do so on a narrow lane bordered by ditches full of stinging nettles and have had 70 years with a scarred knee as evidence that at least I tried, but I don't now. I love the race for many reasons. One is that it is fascinating, like chess on wheels – teams working together for their leaders to try to win. A second is the scenery which varies from the mundane to the sensational. But the madness for me lies in the amount of suffering the riders are prepared to endure when all but a tiny few have the slightest chance of being noticed, still less winning. Why anyone would do this willingly is beyond me – but in a very different way people think we clergy are mad to be ordained.

So many lessons for this column to ponder about. The first is the importance of teamwork. There is no such thing as an isolated cyclist in the Tour. Each belongs to a team with a particular role to play. Each relies on the others and is important. Fine, if that isn't a picture of the Church as the Body of Christ, I don't know what is. We each have a part to play, the Church and each individual congregation is composed of people with different skills, different roles, each valuing the others and working together to extend God's Kingdom in the area – and none is more important than the other. We have value in the sight of God because we are ourselves, not necessarily by doing important things.

I'll byepass the second because it is so obvious. It is the sheer beauty of the country, particularly the mountains.  Watching the Tour day by day is a reminder of the wonder of God's creation as it gradually unfolds hour by hour.  Not much fun for the participants but a pageant of nature at the height of the summer.

But the real thing is that in a sense the Tour is a journey. As the last rider crosses the line it must give them a sense of achievement that they have gone all this way and endured so many things but they have endured to the end. I always think of Christianity in terms of a pilgrimage, a progression. It's not something static, it is moving. Like that ride there are obstacles in the way, there is sometimes pain, there are joys but there are also sorrows. We move onwards towards God, reaching out, upwards and onwards towards Him. Some of us find it easier than others, but we need one another, we need the support and encouragement of God. We may find ourselves having to take spiritual risks but that is how our pilgrimage will go. Nothing can be achieved by being a passive Christian; it's a contradiction in terms.

So, enjoy the summer. As for me, my cycling and motorcycling days are long over. But don't telephone me when the Tour is on television; I won't answer it!

Very best wishes. 

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HOWELL DAVIES – EULOGY

HOWELL DAVIES – EULOGY

My father’s Eulogy has changed a great deal over the past weeks, because of so many kind messages - from family, his friends of 60+ years or just acquaintances, with such a strong common thread of admiration and respect that it would be presumptuous to present this Eulogy simply from my own perspective.

Howell Davies was born in Dinas Powys, South Wales on 5th July 1939. A proud Welshman and Davies all his Life, he was schooled at Swansea Grammar, then Clifton College, Bristol. He joined the CCF’s RAF Section, and, bitten by the flying bug, won an RAF Scholarship, gained his PPL in a 1930’s bi-plane Tiger Moth, before heading to London’s Kings College to study Medicine in 1959. And at London University Air Squadron (UAS) he flew what stayed his favourite small-piston aeroplane, the Chipmunk off RAF White Waltham’s grass airfield.

Our parents met in London, where Pa’s passion for flight overcame his interest in medicine; he started his RAF Officer Training, not as a medic, but as a “potential” pilot at RAF South Cerney in February 1962, and they were married months later on 28th May … I was there in spirit if not quite yet in person!  Daddy was commissioned ‘Pilot Officer’ and posted for pilot training on Jet Provosts to RAF Leeming in June.

Too junior to qualify for a married quarter, Howell and Mouse rented a tiny unheated cottage in Carthorpe, North Yorkshire, where they endured the infamously cold winter of 1962-1963.

They only had one car in their early years, and Mummy drove Pa to work daily; no fun in that abominable winter. One day, Mummy drove Pa to work in her nightie, a cardigan and slippers, but returning home spun the car into a snow bank, and had to flag down a farmer’s tractor who thought it was his lucky day to find a shivering blonde damsel in distress in just a nightie … until Mother leaned back into the car to retrieve me, her 5-month old baby son.

“Oh My Life!” Daddy would sigh, as in her defence Mummy insisted that ‘a baby-doll nightie and fluffy slippers’ were a faster solution to roadside assistance than AA or RAC Membership!

Dadz earned his RAF “WINGS” on 19th April 1963, was posted to RAF Swinderby to train on Vampires, then 5-years training on the Avro Vulcan, and his first operational tour started in January 1967 for 3-years at 50 Squadron RAF Waddington, part of NATO’s front-line Cold War Nuclear V-Force.

Daddy’s passion for flight led him to the RAF Central Flying School and instructing for 3-years at UAS Liverpool. Then his first desk-job at RAF Brampton, when we ‘landed’ at Gosmore House in 1974. Next, he was operational again with 35 Squadron Vulcans based at RAF Scampton for 3-years before lean flying years from 1978 - 1986; 4-consecutive Staff roles ‘flying a desk’ at HQ Bomber Command RAF Bawtry, Joint Airmiss, Staff College Bracknell and at Brampton HQ RAF Support Command – all commuting from Gosmore.

In 1982, Vulcans deployed to the Falklands on the daring long-range bombing mission to disable Port Stanley’s runway on 31st May in ‘Operation Black Buck’. Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael James Beetham, was planning the raid when, Howell tells, he knocked on the door to tell him that “I am one of only two Vulcan pilots current at air-to-air refuelling, and my bag is packed Boss…” to which Sir Michael retorted “Oh bugger off Howell, I’ve got a bloody war to run!”.

An instructor again from 1986 on Chipmunks, Grobs and Bulldogs, Howell manged to broadly avoid a desk-job until his retirement on his 55th birthday in 1994, after 32 years’ service. But to no surprise he joined the RAF Reserves the next day to spend another decade sharing his experience with the next generations of young potential RAF pilots.

Howell’s four packed RAF flying logbooks are meticulous and precise, with 5,228.5 total hours in aircraft ranging from the humble Tiger Moth to the mighty Vulcan nuclear bomber, detailing every imaginable military training and operational exploit across the USA, Africa, Europe, various aircraft emergencies, instruction in aerobatics and smuggling Christmas presents and Canadian Moonshine in the Vulcan bomb bay.

Mummy loved giving presents, especially surprises, and as a belated 50th Birthday present in anticipation of his retirement she presented Pa with a pile of pre-WW2 bi-plane parts - so he wouldn’t get bored! Over 18-years, continuing his local flying with family and friends, Howell restored the now exquisite K8203 Hawker Demon so it could be displayed at Old Warden, Duxford and Goodwood.  His first flight in it was as Rear Gunner on 13 August 2009 … Hopefully we’ll see K8203 flying overhead after the service.

Some of the messages we have been privileged to receive deliver a collation of Pa’s character and of what made him so very special to so many of us:

“No one has the perfect words to make our sadness go away …But you may find comfort in knowing how many people wish they did.”

“I will remember him as a true Gentleman. A man of great dignity who had a wealth of amazing life experience and stories to tell. Always the most entertaining man and definitely the one to draw for sitting next to at lunch!”

“I only got to know him during the last year at Sunday morning Choir at St. Ippolyts. If we were signing Cwm Rhondda he would indicate to me with signs or whispers to sing the rising bass part in the chorus, which adds so much to the Welsh spirit and fervour of this rousing hymn.”

“I will miss the chats with your father and interesting tales of his time in the RAF. However, I will not miss the ravaging hangovers from his hospitality and bottles of Calvados.”

“Howell was a font of knowledge. The Services he took for us at St, Mary’s, Great Wymondley were memorable – especially Remembrance Day at the Lychgate. He gave such moving accounts of the 5 who died in WW1 from our tiny village.”

“The rarest of men - always genuinely interested and interesting, in equal measure. And uniquely, always interesting or interested at precisely the right time!”

“Although I only knew your father in his later years, he always had a smile on his face and clearly never happier than when surrounded by his family. He had a wonderful ‘DASH’” (The Dash Poem, by Linda Ellis)

Daddy loved Gosmore and Gosmore House, and as a family we had the happiest time with Mummy Mouse running a fun-filled home; always busy with RNLI and Church Teas, Open Gardens, village swimming days and Daddy always a welcoming host. Since Mouse passed, father has enjoyed his friendships in the Parish, at Monday Club, Almshoebury shoot, BOBs, Probus, his walking group, his dear church St. Ippolyts, and amongst this aviator, sailing and Welsh rugby debenture seat friends at Cardiff’s ‘Cathedral of Glory’ and visiting his beloved Gower Peninsula. And since his retirement, he completed two Open University degrees, and was working on his 3rd at 83!

We have all been blessed to have Howell/Daddy/GrandDadz in our lives; he truly was a gentle and wise man, a good, steadfast and loyal friend to all, generous, kind, humble and gracious. We will miss him dearly.

There is no doubt he had great DASH, and happily he is on his final journey to join our beautiful Mother, his beloved wife Mouse; though I suspect not for the peaceful rest that he deserves, but most likely to be met with party poppers, beer and champagne at Heaven’s most riotous reunion party - for which Mummy has been preparing for 21 years!

Peter Davies

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A thought from Revd. Paul Lanham

Dear Friends,

There is the (doubtless apocryphal) story of the bishop visiting a Sunday School and seeing a small child industriously drawing. When asked what he was doing, the child replied that he was drawing a picture of God. 'But nobody knows what God looks like' said the bishop piously, to which the child imperturbably replied 'They will when they have seen my picture'. The moral is of course that children have a nasty way of cutting you down to size, especially if you have a bit of plastic around your throat.

June begins with the most mysterious of all the festivals of the year, Trinity Sunday. 'Firmly I believe and truly God is three and God is one' wrote Cardinal Newman. God is three separate 'entities' and yet each together is one, inseparable from the other two. Fortunately we no longer use 'At Morning Prayer' in the Book of Common Prayer (Quicunque Vult' if you want to use its posh Latin title). In one section it makes this statement about the Holy Trinity: 'The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible' to which you might add 'the whole thing incomprehensible' – which if course it is. The Trinity seems essentially to be for theological professionals trying to make sense of the inexplicable. It seems to have nothing to say to congregations in tiny village churches or in huge Victorian churches in inner cities where only a handful gather to worship. It has nothing to say to a living vibrant 21st century Church. That begs the question of whether we need one Trinity Sunday, still less all those Sundays after it that begin in the high summer and end with the onset of winter. 

Simply we must continue them because of what they stand for. I am very glad that the experiment of having Sundays after Pentecost instead of Sundays after Trinity was abandoned, because the mystery of the Trinity reminds us of who God truly is. Call me an old fogey (which I am but don't tell anyone) but rightly or wrongly we seem to have blurred the gulf between God and man. Amid the recreation of my spiritual life after having to give up as a parish priest I came up with the challenging concept of 'God made in the image of man' as opposed to the message from the Garden of Eden where man is created in the image of God. We seem to have watered down God, concentrating on his being Father rather than the Almighty creator of heaven and earth. It is as though we have made Him almost a cosy shadow of who He really is. Trinity reminds us of the mysteriousness of God, that He is far beyond us. We use words that try and explain the inexplicable by using such terms as 'Father' because our language lies beyond its power to explain. The Trinity reminds us that we must allow God to be God and not belittle His greatness.

That for me is why Trinity Sunday and all those Sundays after Trinity must remain. It's not just looking back on those warm summer days in my childhood as I roamed the fields and lanes of my beloved Gloucestershire, where the bells of the church beside our house rang so often in the balmy evenings. It is that Trinity Sunday sets ourselves and God in their true perspective and reminds us in our proper place of things. But it also reminds us that the same God who created the heavens and the earth loves and cares about our needs as individual people. That for me is the true mystery of the Holy Trinity. He is not a blur on a child's picture on a Sunday School sheet of paper. Nor is He a debating point for the theologians.  He is here, beside me, beside you - here and now. You as you matter to Him.

Warmest good wishes,

Paul

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A Reflection from Revd Paul Lanham

Dear Friends,

One of my greatest childhood heroes was the cricketer Keith Miller (he was an Australian but I forgave him) and a former World War Two fighter pilot. He was once asked how he handled pressure on the cricket field. He replied that 'pressure is a Messerschmitt up your ****. Playing cricket is not'.  To him life was about priorities.

In the recent past two controversial issues have come to the surface. The first has been the proposed decision by the Church of England to spend £100 million in reparation for past evils of the slave trade. The other has been whether the Anglican Church may or may not marry same sex couples in church, something that is threatening to tear it apart. They are two of many areas of controversy on both spiritual and moral grounds, ones where strongly felt opinions are rightly felt and expressed.

Far be it for me to be controversial lest it causes offence. But here I return to Mr Miller's famous words and apply them to such issues; instead of looking at them in isolation we need to look at the whole picture, seeing them in the light of the teaching of Our Lord and also of the vision we have of what the Church exists to be and to do. 

What might be our priorities? First to be a community for worship and prayer –not just in the context of coming to church but also aspiring to living true Christian lives. The Church is people, not buildings; we are the Church who meet in our churches. We meet to worship, and both there and in prayer we bring the needs and aspirations of those around us to God.

Secondly, we are here to serve, to give and not to take. This goes clean contrary to the materialism and self-centredness of the world as a whole. We represent an alternative world with an alternative vision of the world, with different values, a different focal point, with the future more important than the present. We are IN the world but not OF the world. 

Third we are here to care. There is so much suffering in the world today. Not just the great tragedies such as the recent earthquake in Syria but the running sore of world poverty. Not just well recorded tragedies that hit the headlines but those who are sick, lonely, disabled, bereaved. I love those words of John Donne: 'Any man's death diminishes me because I am a part of mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls – it tolls for thee'. 

Fourth, we are to draw others to believe as we believe. I know that the whole idea of so-called evangelism is out of date now and some see it almost as dangerous. But Christianity is not some kind of a woolly belief in a God of some sort, coming to church now and again and trying to live a decent life. Christianity is a way of life and it changes existence into living to the full. The Church is a living organization that exists for other people and in our own lives we must show that it works in practical terms.

You may think of other fundamental purposes for what the Church exists to do and to be; like another hero of mine (Winnie the Pooh) I am a bear of very little brain. But as we consider these matters that hit the headlines we need to think of them in terms of whether they will strengthen the vision, work and worship of the Church today. It is all about priorities, about the wider picture – not in isolation.

Something to ponder for Lent this month perhaps?

With very best wishes, 

Paul Lanham

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REMEMBERING CLARE LARSEN

Clare was a kind and thoughtful member of the St Ippolyts church community since moving to Hitchin in 1970. Over the years, she joined the Young Wives Group, coffee and church cleaning rotas, Bible Study group and was a Sidesperson, to name but a few. She was a calming influence at meetings and a happy, chatty guest at social gatherings. Her comments were considered and encouraging, and her opinions were greatly valued. Frequently asking after others and listening carefully to the replies, she was genuinely interested in the lives of those around her. She edited the PAX magazine for 30 years and always knew the details of events taking place within the parish and wider church community. She was a bell ringer for many years and loved the practice sessions as well as ringing for special occasions and regular Sunday services. As a keen walker, she enjoyed the annual pilgrimage to St Albans Abbey on Easter Monday and the walk around the parish boundary. Clare continued to walk to visit friends, into town or to church until the summer last year. She also very much enjoyed being outside in her garden - planting and weeding and watching the birds. She will be very sadly missed by everyone who knew her.

Fitz Larsen, Tracie, Wendy, and Diana

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