Arriving fresh from the ordination, a warm welcome awaited us at Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) – not least from its beloved Vicar, Pat. Gilliat. The staff also included a senior curate, Peter Hooper, who was my frequent mentor. We had temporary accommodation in the vicarage, a large house in Brompton Square. Here lived the vicar and his family, together with a housekeeper and the other curate – a lively clergy household with lots of mutual support and encouragement.
My stipend started at £300 p.a. plus free accommodation! Once my wife joined me we moved to a flat in Earls Court where our first child was born. When the lease expired and we moved again to a spacious ground-floor flat where our second child was born.
During this first curacy I had to undertake Post Ordination (“pottie”) Training: this served to get me into the important habit of in-service training which has kept me abreast of developments over the years since. That and the varied “Spiritual Direction” that I have enjoyed have been essential to parish priesthood.
My introduction to pastoral work seemed dramatic! Here I had my first conversation with an openly homosexual man; here I had contact with a family that lost their child to leukaemia; here I supported a mother whose son committed suicide. Much sprang from Pat Gilliat’s pastoral practice. He visited in the parish most afternoons and saw this as a priority for his curates too: he also encouraged us to develop our own ministerial styles and interests.
South Kensington was an amazing first parish! Living in those large terraces was a range of people, from wealthy families with domestic staff, to students and young professionals in shared flats. The parish included Harrods (where the Vicar was chaplain – a duty he shared with his curates), Imperial College (where we assisted the University Chaplain), a number of businesses and institutions (from which some of our congregation came). Variety was assured, alongside many challenges and opportunities!
Many younger people, building their professional lives, found support through HTB. Some met at our flat on Sunday evenings for supper and lively discussions. There was friendship and fellowship between us all. I was involved in crises and joys and special occasions. Such are the privileges of parish ministry to which I was introduced at HTB!
The staff were allocated particular responsibilities: I hosted the monthly services of the Divine Healing Mission and became involved in its wider work. I played a part in our support for Christian Aid – then a comparatively new organisation. I also worked with the Overseas Students Club. This led on to concern about accommodation and Trinity Lodge Housing Association was formed which, combined with Lee Abbey International Students Club, acquired premises in Earls Court as a hostel.
HTB was of liberal evangelical churchmanship. The movement for liturgical reform was gathering momentum and ours was among those churches which adopted a “Parish Eucharist” alongside its traditional services. This led to a growth of congregations and the start of a children’s Sunday School.
There was a professional choir under Robert Munns, with which I sang occasionally, together with a choral society which tackled major works from Bach Passions to Kodaly’s Missa Brevis and Britten’s St Nicholas. My musical interests opened up possibilities for chaplaincies with the Royal School of Church Music.
The three years of my first curacy sped by: they introduced me to an unusually wide range of ministry. Time came to move on and I answered an advertisement in Church Times for a senior curate at Wareham in Dorset.
Images: Grounds of HTB. Left: copperplate etching, black ink on white cartridge paper, Simon Winch circa 1963, 54×26 mm. Private collection
Centre and right: in 2013 © John Peirce
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STURMINSTER NEWTON: 1968-74
KINGSWOOD, BRISTOL: 1974-1979
A DECADE IN SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY: 1979-1989
CHARISMA CONSULTANCY: 1989-2005
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A 20TH CENTURY PRIESTHOOD IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND