Preaching in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin this morning, a clerical collar near the front row of the congregation was easy to spot; its wearer did not look familiar. When he came to the communion rail, he was definitely someone I had not seen before.
Going to the south door to greet worshippers as they left at the end of the service, the man in the clerical shirt and his companion approached with warm smiles. ‘Good morning’, he said,’ we are pleased to be with you. I’m a Roman Catholic priest from England and my friend is from Bulgaria’.
‘Shouldn’t you be at a different church this morning?’ We both knew Roman Catholic rules said they should not receive communion in an Anglican church. (The last Pope did not even recognize Anglicans as being a church, rather we were ecclesial communities, lacking the necessary essentials to be a church).
‘Oh, I grew up as a member of the Church of England, but became a Catholic when I was young. Nothing, I hasten to add, to do with the present matters of contention. Tell me, which part of the West of England are you from?’
‘Somerset, near Glastonbury’.
‘Right. My housemaster at Rossall came from Somerset. He came from a small village called High Ham’.
High Ham is a very small village, it has neither shop nor post office. ‘High Ham is my home village’
‘My housemaster was a man called Gordon Cook’.
‘Mr Cook from the village green?” I had never known his name. The thought had never occurred that he might be called anything other than Mister Cook.
‘Did you know him?’
‘Yes, I think so. He had a lovely house beside the village church. He was a lovely man, a gentleman’.
The conversation drifted on as I pondered the rules of chance. Once in my last parish I had a similar conversation with a couple after church.
‘Where are you from?’
‘We came here from Switzerland.’
‘Yes, but where before that?’
‘I grew up in Somerset’, the man answered, ‘in a tiny village’.
‘A very small place; a village called High Ham’.
‘Where did you live in the village?’ He had looked taken aback at the question.
‘Opposite the village school’.
I knew who he was; his sister Sarah had been the most beautiful girl in the world. ‘I know who you are’, I said, ‘you’re Sarah’s little brother’.
The civil parish of High Ham includes High Ham itself together with Low Ham, Henley, Bowdens, Paradise, and Picts Hill. The 2002 population estimate for the entire parish population was 819, but back in the 1970s, High Ham itself can have been no more than 300 or so; those 300 people seemed to have spread themselves very widely, either that or there were a lot more than we thought.