Rev. Oscar Muspratt, Part.1

Bucks Free Press: 26/8/1988.

The Rev, Oscar Muspratt has been a country churchman for the last 44 years.  His parish is the sleepy village of Penn. A quiet life one may think – seeing to the weddings, baptisms and funerals of his villagers. But behind this genteel façade stretches a life of excitement, heroism and adventure.  Mr Muspratt has climbed mountains, preached in the wilds of Australia, picked pineapples in Queensland and tended the dying at the siege of Malta in World war Two.  Indeed his war service is impeccable.  Mr Muspratt served, often in hazardous conditions, as a chaplain in the army. He was at Dunkirk, El Alamein, and joined the famous 51st Highland Division for the invasion of Sicily and later the D-Day landings in 1944.  After the war, he kept his taste for excitement and the unusual.  He buried the arch-traitor … Maclean … And he conducted the marriage of Capt. Robert Lawrence, the controversial author of the Falklands play Tumbledown. Over the next three weeks, Andrew Neish maps the intriguing life of this fascinating man.  Here is the first instalment tracking the adventurer’s life from Jersey to Australia and the turning point in his life where he devoted his life to God.

THE YOUNG Oscar Muspratt never knew a quiet and cosy childhood. He start­ed life as he meant to go on -with an irresistible taste for adventure.
At the age of only seven he helped his father run a fishing business from their home on the island of Jer­sey. His early years were unortho­dox and, at times, dangerous.  His father Frederic led the way in flouting conventions. He had once been a parson himself but fled to Jersey to escape the tedious restraints of church life. On the grey waters off Jersey, Oscar’s story truly begins ….

“My eldest sister Mona and I would go out on the 30-foot fishing boat that my father had built himself,” he recalls.  “It could be quite dangerous out there. There were conga eels six feet long that could take your hand off with just one snap.  “Sometimes it was so foggy on the water you could hardly see in front of you at all. “We could have been ship­wrecked a number of times especial­ly as the sea hid miles and miles of dangerous rocks.  “But that was the risk we naturally took every day.”

Oscar’s father had no qualms about teaching his young son the finer points of a rugged outdoor life – the hard way.  “My father never pampered us when we learnt new things. He would teach me to swim by dangling me over the side of the boat by a rope – and this was in very deep sea­water”.  These early adventures stood the young Oscar in good stead for his later life as a vicar and an army chaplain.

“I was always dealing with hard­ship as a child. It was during those years that I learnt to face danger. And the fearlessness I needed later on in life developed.” 
The independent life was valu­able in other ways. Oscar would have to lug a heavy basket around houses in the hope of selling the lob­sters his father had caught. “Again this knocking on people’s doors helped me develop this tough­ness and fearlessness I would need later on as a parson.    I would have to talk to all sorts of people I had never met from different backgrounds.  “Mind you – I did look rather sweet in those days, I actually had some hair then! It was a mass of curls and I had bright blue ‘eyes; “This probably helped me make my sales -to the ladies at any rate!”.

Oscar knew the hardships of being short of money and the dangers of a fisherman’s life. But there was laughter and schoolboy pranks as well.  His family were staying in St Helier by the local vicarage while his father and brother Eric were working in America.  “I was great friends with the vicar’s son Victor. We got up to all sorts of mischief,” he says.  “In winter we used to pour buckets of water on the pavement outside the church to make it slip­pery in the hope that people would faH over. But it never seemed to work!”

But the greatest hardship was to come. When Oscar was only eleven, his 19-year-old brother, Freddie, was killed in action in one of the First World War’s bloodiest battles, the Battle of the Somme.  “I was devastated. He was so young. It had a huge effect on me,” remembers Oscar.
But brighter things lay ahead. The family moved to Australia in 1920. A new life … and new chal­lenges.  Brother Eric took over an aunt’s pineapple plantation at Woombye in Queensland. Oscar and sister Mona helped out. The work was tough and ceaseless.  “We toiled morning noon and night, hoeing and weeding, and picking the fruit.  “The weather could be very ad­verse. Sometimes we could have a foot of rain in 24 hours and we would be holed up.”  In that wild mountainous region lurked many dangers – not least from deadly snakes.’ Mr Muspratt says: “There were snakes called Death Adders that used to hide in the long grass. But never seemed to be restricted by such dangers. We would run through the grass with our trouser cuffs rolled up.”

Oscar’s next project was to run a dairy farm near Melbourne with his sis­ter. They looked after 24 cows for 18 months.  Up to this time, Oscar’s education had been sparse and intermittent. But university lay ahead and he had to think of way to earn his fees.  Again the outdoor life beckoned. He harvested wheat in New South Wales and drove a 16-horse transport wagon to the station with ten tons of wheat at a time.  Oscar, found a job as a docker in Mel­bourne when he was 19. The work was tough and dangerous.   “Once I was working in the refriger­ation hold of a ship transporting mut­ton and a carcass came loose from its sling and fell 50 feet, landing right next to me.  If it had been any closer, that would’ve been the end of this story, “The men I worked with were tough But so friendly. I learned a lot about people and life on the docks of Melbourne.”

But Oscar was soon to learn a far more important lesson. He had been studying chemistry and ancient at Melbourne University.   At that time he had thought little of God. He had attended the services of a visiting vicar in the Outback but that was all.  But on a summer job wheat harvesting in New South Wales, he had an acci­dent that would change his life and finally bring him to God.”   He was driving a waggon-load of wheat to the station. The team of horses was startled and he was thrown under the wheels, badly injuring his left leg.  Oscar struggled back on and – despite the severe pain – made his own way to hospital.  He lay there for several weeks while the muscle which had been torn from the bone healed.

Mr Muspratt remembers: “To have agonising pain is an experience of a lifetime.
“Lying there bearing the pain made me realise the pain that Jesus must have felt on the cross. It made me think about my life.   “It was a matter of bearing that pain and sharing it with Him and somehow I felt closer to God.  “But nothing happens in isolation. The accident was only a one of several ‘. factors influencing me.  “After I left hospital I went to a church Christmas service and all the childhood memories of Christmas and associations with the Church came back.  “Also I had been attracted to’ the work of one or two of the preachers at university. Oscar switched to theology at university and went on to offer himself as a missionary in China.   “I wanted to preach but I still wanted adventure,” he remembers. “But the Chinese government closed the country to missionaries and I had to think of something else.”  With the door to China closed to him, Oscar was to use the rich learning experiences of earlier years to preach to the poorest and richest of Melbourne’s Christians.

This new phase in Oscar’s life was to mean, inevitably, new adventures.

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A Tribute to Revd. Oscar Muspratt 1906 – 2000

Chaplains at War: Revd. Oscar Muspratt
The Rev. Oscar Muspratt’s Australian church
A visit to the Rev. Oscar Muspratt’s Australian church

The Revd. Oscar Muspratt, who died in March of this year (2000), was the Vicar of Holy Trinity Penn between 1944 and 1989. 45 years of service one would think was enough for anyone but Oscar did so much before he came to Penn.

Oscar Muspratt born in Rochford, Essex, in 1906.  Oscar moved, with his family, to Australia in 1920 and at the age of 14 worked as a bullock cart driver and supported his father on a small dairy farm as a labourer. Due to the kindness of a cousin of his father Oscar was able to study chemistry at Melbourne University and became captain of the University Rugby Team.

It was in 1926 that he had what he called “a spiritual experience” which led him to enter the Church Ministry; intending to become a missionary in China. The Chinese considered this an appropriate time to prohibit any more missionaries from entering their country, and so Oscar began his Curacy in Melbourne.

St Michael & All Angels Anglican Church
© 10-05-2017 – John Conn, Templestowe, Victoria

In 1936, Oscar obtained a fellowship at Cambridge, where he supplemented his grant by taking services in local churches. At one of these he met Margaret Hooton, the incumbent’s daughter and they were married in 1st June 1937 in Cambridge.  They then returned to Australia where he became Vicar of Dandenong Mountains, and his first task was to rebuild the parish church. Here he honed his conscripting skills as he cadged, cajoled and coerced his small congregation and former university friends to help design and build the beautiful St. Michael’s and All Angels Church in Kalorama. A church and congregation that remained deep in his affection for the rest of his life.

Oscar became a serving chaplain in the 2nd World War and was posted to Egypt during the battles of El Alemain, Malta during their blitz, the initial invasions of Sicily and Italy and the Normandy landings.

And so to Penn.  Oscar became the Army chaplain for Buckinghamshire where he met Richard, Viscount Curzon and subsequently the Earl Howe. As the future patron of Penn Church, which was then without a clergyman, he invited Oscar to become the Vicar of Penn Church.

He was demobilised in 1945, and began the restoration and development of Penn Church and its parish. A labour of love that occupied him for the next 45 years. He reintroduced the Church Choir, of which he was so proud, and the restoration of Penn Church’s tradition of bell ringing. The building of the Lady Chapel and construction and repositioning of the new organ. The re-roofing of the church, the extension of the cemetery and the restoration of the long window on the north wall.

His moments in Penn gave Oscar moments of great happiness. Special personal highlights were the development of links between Penn and Pennsylvania; receiving the Freedom of Pittsburgh; being the guest of the US Senate; the establishment of the Penn Pennsylvania Fellowship Trust and the Penn Mead home.

Oscar’s wife Margaret took ill and died in 1976.

When he retired in 1989 Oscar was in poor health and to the pleasure of all who knew him, in 1990 Oscar married Vera who had cared for him at his lowest times. Vera’s effect on Oscar was wonderful. He made a good recovery, throwing away his walking stick.

In 1995 Oscar and Vera bought their lovely bungalow in Brecon. There Oscar spent his time writing his recollections and his treatise on World Peace, while Vera created a beautiful garden in which Oscar took as much pride as if he had made it himself.

Over the past 2 years, Oscar’s health worsened. He had difficulty in walking, but his happiness in Brecon with Vera was great. He passed away on the morning of 8th March 2000, after an intestinal aneurysm.

So that was a little part of the man you may have known as Oscar. A suitable epitaph should be the words of Wordsworth. ‘That best portion of a good man’s life. His little nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love.

We are indebted to Derek Evans for most of the above.

Chaplains at War

From an article found on ‘Chaplains at War’Oscar Muspratt enlisted in the Army January 1941 upon his return from Australia. He was posted to the 1st battalion the Rifle Brigade (which he shared with the 2nd Battalion the KRRC) in the 1st Armoured division recovering from Dunkirk. During his 2 1/2 years war service in the Middle East he tended the wounded and dying from both the first and the second battles of El Alamein.

Volunteering to replace casualties at the height of the blitz on Malta, he became the gunners chaplain. This involved taking countless services with a handful of men manning the great number of anti-aircraft guns in their open gun-pits: these went on even during an actual air raid under standing orders, whilst all hell was let loose overhead.

During the invasion of Sicily, he was posted to the famous 51st Highland division and returned with them for the Normandy Invasion. As his wife was unfortunately faced with a major operation, he was made responsible instead for supervising the spiritual ministrations to the many scattered Army detachments throughout the county of Buckinghamshire. As a precaution, in case London had been hopelessly crippled by bombing, a great part of the key administration of Britain’s war effort was duplicated and scattered throughout eh county of Buckinghamshire. As chaplain he served a wide range of these often most secret and most vital establishments including Chequers and the troops who guarded Winston Churchill.

He was released from the Army service owing to his wife’s serious ill-health at that time and appointed to Penn by Earl Howe in response to the parishioners’ request for an ex-Service Chaplain.

His great grandfather James Muspratt was one of the founders of Britain’s heavy chemical industry in 1825.

From Crockford’s Clerical Directory:
Trained at Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia
Deaconed in 1929 and priested in 1931 in Melbourne, Australia

1929-1933 St Mary’s, Caulfield, Australia
1933-1936 Panton Hill, Australia
1936-1937 permitted to officiate Canterbury diocese
1938 priest in charge at St Mark’s, Fitzroy, Australia
1938-1941 Minister of Mt Dandenong, Australia
1941-1945 Chaplain to the Forces
1947 Honorary Chaplain to the Forces
1948-1989 Vicar of Penn, Oxford Diocese, UK
1990 retired and moved to Brecon.

The Rev. Oscar Muspratt’s Australian church

Kalorama Church 1940’s, © Images of Yesteryear

One of our former Vicar’s proudest achievements was that, in 1940, during the darkest days of the Second World War, he had inspired the building of a beautiful new church at Kalorama, 2,000 feet up in the hills of Mt Dandenong, surrounded by eucalyptus trees, with a distant view of Melbourne, 25 miles away to the north west.

Oscar Muspratt was 31 when he arrived at Mt Dandenong in 1938.  He had been ordained for nine years, working as a priest in a succession of parishes in the Melbourne area with a 2-year curacy in England where he met and married his first wife at Cambridge.  A wealthy parishioner, Ernest Jones, died soon after his arrival at Mt Dandenong and his widow agreed that the building of a new church at Kalorama would be a worthy memorial to him.

The chosen architect was Keith Reed, an old friend and former team-mate from the Melbourne University rugby team, of which Oscar had been captain.  The design for a 60-seat church was debated and there were supporters for both a log cabin style and for a clinker brick clad church, but the final choice was for local (Kilsyth) stone.  This stone was found only a few miles away and came in soft varied tones of cream, buff, brown and grey.  It was decided to follow the Early English style with a small tower and was to cost about £1,400 of which £1,000 was the gift from Mrs Jones.

Oscar Muspratt chose the name St Michael and all Angels for the church, inspired by the Battle of Britain which was being fought in the skies over England at that very time.  He had found a text in Revelation Ch 12, v7,  ‘there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels fought against the dragon…and the dragon prevailed not’.

The foundation stone was laid on 26 June 1940, the day France fell, when it seemed that the whole future of Christian civilisation was at stake.  ‘A giant struggle lies ahead of the world and our Empire in particular’ he wrote in his church newsletter.  The church was completed in five frenetic months and was consecrated by the Archbishop of Melbourne on 28 November 1940.

St Michael & All Angels Anglican Church
© 10-05-2017 – John Conn, Templestowe, Victoria

The final cost of building was £1,835, nearly double Mrs Jones’ original offer, but she agreed to meet the whole of it leaving only the furnishings to the congregation.  Oscar Muspratt was remembered as the prime mover behind the project.  ‘He pushed – no church would have been built otherwise’.  The architect had vivid memories of the Vicar ‘being on the ball all the time, up there every day’.

The Muspratts left Australia in January 1941, only two months after the consecration, bound for England and volunteer war service as an Army Chaplain.  Keith Reed also volunteered for the Forces.  Oscar Muspratt returned several times in later years, most recently with his second wife, Vera, in 1990, for the 50th anniversary of the church.

The church has been described as an architectural gem and people come from miles around to be married there. The two photographs reproduced here confirm that it is a most attractive church.

Perhaps we should consider some formal arrangement for linking our two churches?  A good few of us will travel to Australia from time to time and it is easily accessible from Melbourne.

I have taken all the detail for this article from a detailed history of the church called ‘A light in the Hills’, written by H.L.Speagle in 1990, as well as checking with Vera Muspratt’s own knowledge of the church.  A copy of the history can be found in the Parish Office.

Miles Green, 22 December 2000

A visit to the Rev. Oscar Muspratt’s Australian church

St Michael & All Angels Anglican Church
© 10-05-2017 – John Conn, Templestowe, Victoria

I wrote in our Newsletter two years ago (Feb/Mar 2001) about the small stone clad church at Kalorama, near Melbourne, for which the foundation stone was laid on 26 June 1940, the day France fell.  The building of this church was very much a product of the enormous enthusiasm and energy of the young Vicar, Oscar Muspratt, who was to be our Vicar from 1944-89.

This August, our family holiday was spent in Australia visiting my wife’s mother who lives at Ballarat, about 80 miles west of Melbourne.  We set off early one Sunday morning with our two younger children on a 2½ hour car journey through Melbourne’s suburbs, to Kalorama, about 25 miles east of the city.  It is about 2000ft up in the wooded (mainly eucalyptus) hills of Mt Dandenong, a lovely area popular with Melbourne residents and tourists.

The church is just to one side of the road with a long view of the open lowlands behind it.  It is clad with the local stone in soft, varied tones of cream, buff, brown and grey and looks very neat and established.  It seats 60 people (about one third the size of Penn) and is apparently immensely popular for weddings and funerals with people coming on occasions from as far away as New Zealand.

We were met by Henry Speagle, the author of a very well written and detailed history of the church (available in our Church Office), who had been kindly forewarned by Vera Muspratt, Oscar’s widow.  The service was entirely familiar based entirely on the Book of Common Prayer, even including a prayer for the Queen and her Ministers.  We were warmly welcomed as representatives of Oscar Muspratt’s other church.  The congregation was on the elderly side, although there is apparently an active youth group and familiar sports jackets and corduroy trousers were in evidence.  Tea and biscuits in the nearby hall and a tour of the church followed the service.

Jean and Henry Speagle invited us to lunch and we found much in common.  His generation of Australians was educated as if in an English school with no mention at all of Australian history.  He was very knowlegeable about Anglican personalities and had been particularly impressed by Rowan Williams who he had heard preaching.  The Melbourne diocesan newspaper was full of the appointment and its likely consequences for the Anglican Church.

It was a most interesting visit.  We received the friendliest of welcomes and I recommend Kalorama to future visitors to Melbourne.

Miles Green, 10th September 2002

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Peter Widdicombe, Priest-in-Charge 1991-1993

The Diocesan Duties of the Priest-in-Charge:
My appointment to Penn is a shared position with the Diocese of Oxford. Two days a week I teach in various programmes for the Diocese. In the autumn of Ihe past year I taught a course in Patristics for the Non-Stipendiary Ministries programme of the Diocese. The NSM programme provides theological training for those who wish to be ordained, and will thus be able to fulfil all the functions of a Church of England clergyperson, but who will remain employed in secular jobs and receive their income from those jobs. The programme is three years long and is very demanding. The students attend lectures one night a week for most weeks of the year and have weekend and summer seminars. There are forty students in the programme and it is expanding. The students are made up of teachers, nurses, lawyers, academics, housewives and businessmen.’ The Church of England is suffering increasingly from a shortage of clergy and Ihis is one of the ways the Church is attempting to meet the need.. The course I taught dealt wilh the development of the doctrines of the Trinity and the person and work of Christ in the first five centuries of the Church, which are my particular specialities. In an article in a subsequent issue of the parish magazine I shall describe more fully my academic interests.

This spring I have been teaching a course in Patristics for the Faculty of Theology at Oxford. In the autumn I shall be leading a seminar in the historical and theological significance of the Nicene Creed for the diocesan programme for the continuing education of the parochial clergy.  It is likely that most of those who attend will be from the Buckinghamshire area of the Diocese.  Next spring I shall be teaching a course in systematic theology for the Thamesway lay training programme, which is based in Slough.

The work requires a great deal of time and energy, but ensures that I continue to read, and so, I trust, contributes to my preaching and the pastoral work I do in the parish.  It also means that the Priest-in-Charge of Penn has, for good or ill, a slightly higher profile in the diocese than might otherwise be the case.

Rev. Peter Widdicombe, June 1991.


Following my appointment as Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies in McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, I have, with regret, submitted my resignation as Priest-in-Charge of Holy Trinity to the Bishop of Buckingham. Karen and I have made many friends here and I have been greatly encouraged by the increasingly flourishing life of the Christian community in the parish. I appreciate deeply the kindness and support I have been given since we arrived. Such things one does not forget.

The position at McMaster is a rare and attractive one: the Department is considered to be the best in Canada and eighty people applied for the post. The Department is primarily concerned with the teaching of post-graduates and it has undergraduates as well. The position is ideally suited to me, allowing me to address my main theological interests. I shall be teaching undergraduate courses in the history of Christian thought from the second to the twemieth centuries and I shall be teaching post-graduate seminars and supervising theses in both early and modem Christian theology. I shall also be doing research in early and modem theology.

Hamilton is located around the western end of Lake Ontario, forty minutes from Toronto, where Karen and I lived before coming to England. I am pleased to be returning to my home country.

Our last Sunday in the parish will be May 30th.

Peter Widdicombe, March 1993

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Rev. Jeffrey Pierce, Priest-in-Charge 1993-1997

The Reverend Jeffrey Pierce was educated at Watford Grammar School and is a graduate in Chemistry of London University.

He worked for Glaxo from 1957 in Commercial Development, Marketing, Materials Management and Pesonnel, and was lately a director of subsiduary companies of the Glaxo group, including a period in Nigeria as Managing Director.

After his ordination training on the Oxford Ministry Course, he was licensed as a non-stipendiary minister to his home parish of Great Missenden. He is now appointed to Penn for one year initially, and although he will not be living in the vicarage, he will have an office on the first floor of the Church hall.

Penn Church Newsletter, December 1993.

Fond farewell to Penn’s first non-stipendiary minister

The Rev. Jeffrey Pierce retired at the end of October after four highly successful years as priest-in-charge, very actively supported by his wife, June. He was the fIrst non-stipendiary minister, i.e. unpaid volunteer, to be appointed to Penn and came from a long and successful career with Glaxo Pharmaceuticals.

Much genuine warmth and regret attended their farewells. Jeffrey was presented with a Yamaha Clavichord, a super-sophisticated kind of electronic piano; June with two huge garden urns and a three year membership of the Royal Horticultural Society.

They left for a cruise ship and a tour of the Holy Land led by a retired bishop who also happened to be a former school friend and their best man. They will keep their house in Manor Road and look forward to helping again at Penn after the three months absence sensibly required by church regulations to allow their successor time to settle in.

The Rev. Carol Williams, another non-stipendiary, whom we introduced in the Spring edition of Village Voice, has been working hard to make The Vicarage in Paul’s Hill habitable. By the time this issue appears, her licensing service will have taken place on November 17 and Penn’ s first woman priest will be installed. We wish her well.

Miles Green, Village Voice Christmas 1997

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Rev. Carol Williams, Priest-in-Charge 1997-2001

Carol joined Holy Trinity in November 1997 as Priest in Charge and the comment above refers to her hobby of walking. Not only does she walk round the Parish and locality but on her holidays she is walking around the south westal coast route which is 500 miles. A little each year!

Carol was born in Surrey and brought up in Chingford, Essex. Her career has been mainly in personnellhuman resources and with British Gas. In 1991 Carol was seconded to the Senior Managing Director where she stayed until 1993. At that time she joined the Institute of Citizenship and later became Chief Executive. Set up in 1986 its aim is to encourage and promote responsible and participative citizenship within society.

Carol’s first Christian experience was when she cried seeing Jesus on the cross in a comic strip when she was 8 years old. Why did they kill such a good man? she thought. For her ninth birthday she asked for and received a Bible and a Book of Common Prayer. ( God moves in mysterious ways.) A R.I. teacher deepened her interest and this led to Carol’s confirmation at 14. Carol’s family were not Church going Christians; her father was a natural philosopher and her mother an upright, honest and good person.

Carol had vocational thoughts at this time but the opportunities were limited to a convent so she entered the commercial world where she lived out her faith, a hint of her current Non-Stipendary role.

Carol moved to High Wycombe in 1978 and settled into St. Mary’s, Beaconsfield where she found Revd. Mark Fitzwilliams a stimulating preacher and pastor. He had the wisdom to allow her to come ‘just on Sundays’ until she joined the choir. Meanwhile her faith deepened. After two special experiences she became able to offer her whole life to God. This lead to her offer to work for the Church in 1985 and Carol was accepted for ordination training in 1986.
After wise counselling by Bishop Simon towards Non-­Stipendary Ministry Carol trained on the Oxford Ministry Course. On ordination in 1989 Bishop Simon asked Carol to move to All Saints Parish Church, High Wycombe. Following legislation Carol was ordained Priest in 1994. This was a truly overwhelming experience with the excitement and joy among the huge congregation.

Carol’s greatest joy is to help people on their spiritual journey. She considers it a privilege to be alongside people when they have a need. There is a sense of helplesness but through God she can feel and offer love to them.

The downside is the administration. It is a hindrance to her real work and she is therefore very grateful for all the help she receives.

I have mentioned a couple of times that Carol is a Non­-Stipendary Minister. What this means is “Carol is not paid!”

Every parish would like a fuly paid Priest but it is not possible, according to the management! People like Carol give freely of the gifts they have been given by God. It is hard work. It is not an easy life but as the letter on page 2 comments upon, it is no surprise to Carol and she accepts the work she must do.

Carol during her time at Holy Trinity has introduced change and helped the congregation develop its own faith and worship. There has not always been harmony and the role of a Minister is to help each of us to find their our own contribution

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Vicar: Revd Mike Bisset, 2003-2022

Mike Bisset has lived in the village since his appointment as Vicar to Holy Trinity & St Margaret’s Churches in 2003) and now 19 years later; we must say Goodbye as he retires. Mike has been an enthusiastic contributor to) and supporter of community life.

Tell us a bit about your early life
I was born in West London and grew up there very happily with my parents and sister. After A levels I would have studied Physics and Sheffield, but decided that I had had enough of education and wanted to earn some money. So I joined the Ministry of Defence as a Civil Servant and commenced my career working in various London Offices. I enjoyed my time in the MoD and worked with some excellent people and loved working in London. I met and married my wife Alison and we moved to Harrow where we stayed for 18 very happy years as our family grew. God, however, had plans for me and after 22 years in the Ministry of Defence, three years at Theological College and four years as a curate in Ickenham, Ali and I and our three teenage children arrived in the Vicarage in Penn in July 2003. Our two sons, Chris and James, started at Dr Challoner’s Boys School and our daughter, Suzy, at Dr Challoner’s Girls school in the September.

Clerical attire
My involvement in church life in many ways since a teenager and then four years’ curacy had prepared me for the functions of a Vicar. You have ~ image of yourself, tucked away in a dimly lit study, late at night, surrounded by thick dusty books, crafting your latest sermon. A comforting image for an introvert. So, it is a shock when you find yourself, as I did the other week, shouting over 30 excitable children from the First School asking them what they think a vicar does. Being a vicar is nothing like what you expect. Services and sermons occupy a small proportion of my time. Managing an organisation (which is what the church is) through the huge volume of administration (via email) are the things that are essential but, for me, time consuming and draining. Visiting people, helping folk through the trauma of death and a funeral, working through marriage prep with a young couple, taking school assemblies, working with others to set up for ‘one off’ events are the things that energise me.

In the MoD, life is nicely structured with clear job boundaries, set times and structures. Those boundaries and structures all disappear when ‘working from home’. It is important for me to have some structure and so I attempt to put this into the week by setting times for dealing with emails, afternoons for visiting, certain days for preparing for Sundays, and administration. Of course, inevitably, a phone call will disrupt those nicely-laid plans.
The work is extremely varied and does defy job descriptions and time sheets. I have frequently been heard to utter the words ‘they do not tell you about that in Theological College’. One not untypical experience was in the second year of my curacy when one Saturday I took the funeral of an 18 month old child in the morning, a wedding in the afternoon and ran an event for the youth in the evening.

What excites me?
Of the things that I have done here in the Parishes it is work with children and teenagers that I have enjoyed the most. It almost feels as though one absorbs energy from the children. It is also the hardest thing I do. With adults one can be vague and waffly, hoping to pass it off as being profound, but with children you have to be short, clear and visual (little of that at Theological College).

I have probably taken the most satisfaction from the ‘Songs of Praise on the Common’ services that we have run. They signify the church escaping the building and singing God’s praises, in the open air, in the heart of the Community. That has been something special. I am grateful to Her Majesty for providing me with the opportunity for my last public act to be the service on the Common on 5th June.

When I arrived, both Holy Trinity and St Margaret’s were recovering from some traumatic times and it has been lovely to see the grace of God at work in healing within the churches and also bringing them together.

One word to describe your time here?
Privilege. It has been a huge privilege to be permitted to be in the midst of families and alongside individuals at those most profound moments in life of birth, marriage and bereavement. Listening to people’s stories is always a profound and humbling experience as they open their hearts, often with tears, in sharing themselves. They are sacred moments.

The Church and the World
I have been most grateful for the work of the P&TG Residents’ Society here. I remember at Theological College hearing Rowan Williams (then Archbishop of Canterbury) speaking about community itself being a divine thing; just the act of diverse people getting together was pleasing to God. The Residents’ Society does an amazing job in generating and maintaining community and wherever possible I have sought to support that. It is a very hard thing to create and we must not lose it here.

What next?
Our children have now all left home and so Ali and I will initially move to our house in Ealing. We have got used to village life and plan to head out this way in due course. I am very much looking forward to more boating, more quality ‘garage time’ and catching up with mends and relatives. We also have a few holidays lined up.

Who will replace you as Vicar?
The job here will be advertised in the press, applicants shortlisted and interviewed. All of that takes the best part of a year. The parishes here will attract good candidates. And if my successor comes to know the love and grace that I have come to know here, they will be truly blessed. Being a vicar is not a job, it is a life. The amazing people of Penn & Tylers Green are a part of me and I will remember you always, tell stories about you at dinner parties and pray for you. Thank you, thank you.

Village Voice June/July 2022

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