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  • Emma Palmer

Remembering with love

Updated: Aug 8, 2019

"If we do meet again, why, we shall smile; If not, why, then, this parting was well made"

(Julius Caesar: Act V, Shakespeare).

When I was six years old I asked if I could go to church. My Nan agreed to take me and my Mum came along a few years later. Off we went every Sunday morning, sitting at the right hand side of the nave, a couple of rows from the front on the dark wooden pews. Harry the vicar was a larger than life man with hearty sermons, rousing hymns and twinkling eyes. I've no idea what I made of his sermons - I was only six, after all - but I liked going to church. I liked the church itself: the dark beamed ceiling, the solid font which was cool to the touch, the war memorial and the mysterious red light hanging above the alter in the church's chancel. A few years later Harry retired. My Mum, me and our friends helped Harry and his wife move to Vicar's Close in Wells. My friend and I had a whale of a time exploring the passage ways and hidden spiral staircases of this ancient, meandering old house on its uneven, cobbled street. There was much sadness and appreciation amongst the congregation at Harry's retirement. Roy, the new reverend, was very different to Harry. Where Harry was larger than life, Roy was fairly quietly-mannered - at least on first meeting. Harry had a bellowing - in a good way - Oxbridge voice. Roy had a relaxed, friendly tone and a lilting Lancashire accent. Both were friendly, welcoming, with great senses of humour and tangible faith. When I was about 10 or 11 I asked to be baptised. Roy conducted my baptism during a service one Sunday morning (or was it on a Sunday afternoon?) In truth, I don't remember all that much apart from feeling quietly glad and wearing a white blouse and a red skirt with a patterned hem, so I guess it must have been summer. I then went on to ask to be confirmed. With my friend Claire we would meet Roy to study the catechism until he felt we were ready to be confirmed. Roy's depth of faith, knowledge of Christianity, and strength of practise meant that you could ask him pretty much anything and he wouldn't be flummoxed. I don't remember what we asked him, but I do remember that those catechism meetings weren't dry and boring - they were about life and prayer and kindness and the stuff that mattered. Roy wasn't a text book vicar, his examples were from stories, films, novels and from the bible. He made the bible sound as if it were written yesterday, bringing characters and events to life, in full technicolour. He kindly pulled our legs if we were getting the wrong end of the stick or playing our violin and flute out of tune during the family service - which we did alot. He never belittled us, even though I'm sure we were really annoying, giggling teenagers at times. His sermons weren't long and boring. I often experienced his recitation of the nicene creed as spell-bounding, though I wouldn't have put it in those words back then. Roy was far more than the words he was speaking. When he closed each service with the blessing, I actually felt blessed. Maybe it was the words, maybe it was the kindly look on Roy's face. Roy was present throughout my childhood and teenage years. Being a rural community, Roy and Winifred, his fab wife, were an important part of village life. Roy conducted our emotional leaver's service at primary school, Roy and Win would come to my parents New Year parties, my brother was best friends with Roy and Win's youngest son, Phil. Their eldest son Jon worked in my family's business for a while. When Roy and Win moved to the Costa Blanca, with Roy becoming the reverend to the ex-patriots there, Phil stayed with us to complete his A levels, before he and my brother went to live in Spain with Roy and Win, finding work with Pepe the water man. We visited them there and always enjoyed their company and generous hospitality. When my Dad died Roy and Win were unable to fly home for the funeral and I was so touched when they let us know that they had lit all the candles and prayed in the church at the time of Dad's funeral. The years rolled by and I had stopped going to church. I liked the sound of Jesus alot from the stories of his life, but didn't believe in God. My faith prevailed and eventually I ended up stumbling across Buddhism in my early 20s, which I have been practising ever since. Early in my time practising Buddhism I realised the depth of my appreciation for Roy and the example he set as a vicar and as a man. I came across people who hadn't necessarily had positive experiences of Christianity or other religions. By contrast, I had been fortunate enough to have had a really sound grounding in faith and devotional practice. I realise now that it wasn't simply what I was taught about Christianity, it was how I was taught, how that was transmitted and a sense of quiet yet powerful devotion. Roy exemplified how to be humble, yet rich in knowledge and experience. He was seriously committed to his faith whilst coming across with the lightest of touches, with his familiar smile and a nod or wink. He was no push over and yet I never sensed him defending his faith, even when asking him tricky questions about good and evil. And best of all, there was not even the slightest whiff of piety around Roy, and yet he was the most reverent reverend I've ever encountered. Eleven years ago I was ordained as a Buddhist and in my pastoral role of mentoring others and supporting their deepening practice of Buddhism I've often thought of Roy. I have reflected on his example: his care, his unassuming nature, his clarity, his giving of the gift of confidence, and his wise humour. Roy died the week before last, after a long, arduous illness. I am very glad for him that he is no longer suffering and so sad for his family that he's no longer there with them. He and Win's family felt a bit like an extension of my own. I am saddened by Roy's passing very deep down. He was my first spiritual teacher and his example then stays with me now, despite the fact we are followers of different traditions. Faith, compassion and wisdom transcend religious differences, and how we practise is as important as what we practise. If I can embody a fraction of that which Roy embodied in his life and practice I shall die happy. Go well, Roy.

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