“Say wun fer me Farver!” was shouted at me, embarrassingly, on a crowded London bus.

The date was 28th May 1961: the day on which I was made a deacon at St. Paul’s Cathedral. This was the first time I had worn the (in-) famous “Dog Collar” and I was feeling very self-conscious. I was with a group of others, making our way from 3 days of retreat at St. Katharine’s Foundation in Limehouse to the ordination service.

My first position was to be as junior curate at Holy Trinity Brompton in South Kensington and the contrast between the two sides of London, East and West, could not have been greater. Limehouse, was in a state of terminal decay. A break from the retreat saw me wandering along the derelict dockside in a state of apprehension at my surroundings and, yes, at the unknown future that lay before me.

The retreat had been an unexpectedly grim experience: the house was coldly unwelcoming, the beds uncomfortable, the food unappetising, the other participants unknown to me, the religious rituals unfamiliar. I was far from inspired – more like terrified!

The ordination service itself was long and the cathedral, still recovering from its war damage, was overpowering. However this was the day for which I had been preparing for more than a decade and a large group of family and friends was there warmly to encourage and support. I hung on to the deep and personal significance of this day with a passion.

Ordination has proved to be the gateway to an amazingly varied life’s work – a way of life and a way of living – an essential part of who I am. Such is priesthood. Indelible.

Now in retirement I live again in London’s East End, not far from Limehouse where it all started. The area has been transformed out of all recognition: altogether more affluent – gentrified. The life that lay unknown before me then, I now look back and reflect upon.

Today East London is dominated to the west by the City which encroaches ever eastwards and to the South by Docklands, seat of world-wide financial institutions. The skyline is one of skyscrapers, offices and luxury apartments. Gone are the once busy docks; gone are the homes of the dock workers. Further regeneration follows the 2012 Olympics. The population is increasingly multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-faith.

What a surprising and stimulating environment to which to retire! Join me in looking both backwards and forwards: back to what has been and the lessons we might learn and on to what the future might hold and what we can contribute to it.

Limehouse Basin: above, circa 1960 – courtesy Tower Hamlets Library and Archive Services; below, in 2012 © John Peirce


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WAREHAM: 1964-1968