After a lifetime of being largely anti authority, and fiercely independent, I found myself in desperate straits. My parents had died when I was young and I had various support from relatives friends and neighbours.
After university, I found myself a job but became depressed. I was so low and lonely that I started going back to church, something that had not happened since I was a small boy being taken by parents. I had left the church behind and prided myself on my atheist views. Because I went back to the same church I was confirmed in, I went to see the vicar, who was still there, and he suggested I went to see a colleague of his for counselling. This would be another first because counselling wasn’t even in my mental backpack – another middle class talking cure for the worried well.
Because I felt so lonely and anxious I did follow up his suggestion, and I made an appointment to see the counsellor, which was in a very posh building in the middle of town – run by a doctor. The person I went to see was not a doctor, but he told me he was a Jungian counsellor, and also happened to be a priest. I estimated that he was about sixty, a large man and gay with it, I thought. Had to be – a single priest.
I’m not sure how that session went, but we did swap some personal information, and he told me where his set of parishes were, including his “home” parish. We made a second appointment, but I was not sure I would go back. He was exactly the sort of man that I distrusted, made fun of, and generally would not have anything to do with; a gay, Christian priest….
I did go back to the second appointment. By this time in my life I was living alone in a house I had bought with the remnants of my parents estate. I was very unhappy there, and despite the counselling I was getting worse, ending up with a full-on breakdown, and hospitalisation. The counsellor (David by name) did end up getting involved in this incident because he was called up by a worried friend, who went through my address book to find him. That was it really – after a short spell in hospital, I came home and resumed my life, even more desperate than before. I did not resume the counselling but one evening I was so lonely that I drove out to Reverend David’s house in the countryside, to see him. I sat outside his house in my car but that was it. I had not arranged to see him, and for some reason was unable to get out of the car and knock on the door. I wanted to talk to him and yet at the same time I could not.
Eventually, after what seemed like hours, David’s front door opened and he walked down his long driveway.
‘Would you like to come in, or would you hate to?’ he said in his deep mellifluous voice.
‘I’d like to come in……’
We went into his house, which was a large modern detached house, the ancient vicarage having been sold off by the church some years ago. We went into his sitting room, where the log burner was sending out inviting warmth.
‘Would you like a cup of coffee or tea – I’m having one……’
That was it…….no “what are you doing here”………or “what on earth do you think you are doing”……Simply accepting the fact that I was there, and making me a coffee.
We did talk as we drank our hot drinks.
‘I just wanted to see you’ I said. The conversation was not exactly desultory but it was stilted, as he gently asked me neutral questions.
The time came when I should leave and go home.
‘I don’t want to go home’ I said.
‘If you would like to stay, you need to ask me’ – I think was the reply.
Relief flowed through me. I still thought he was a gay vicar, but I was so desperate not to go home.
‘I have a spare bedroom’ he said, ‘which is made up.’
He showed me the room – gave me a glass of water and said goodnight. There was a connecting door along the upstairs corridor which he closed. So there I was – going to bed in a strange man’s vicarage, with really no idea about what I was doing.
In the morning, I woke up to the smells of a cooked breakfast being prepared. I had a shower, and then got dressed and went downstairs.
‘Would you like some breakfast? Did you sleep well?’
The conversation carried on like that through breakfast. At some point, David did say that if I wanted to, I could stay a little longer. There were two rooms upstairs I could use – a bedroom, and next to it another room which I could use as a lounge. Although I was still a bit suspicious of David’s intentions, I went back to my house and packed what I needed.
I stayed at David’s house for two years…..at no time was his behaviour anything but polite and pleasant. I really needed to revise my prejudices about priests and posh people – he told me that when he was a boy, they had servants in their house; hard to believe but also hard to mock, as he was being so good to me. God knows what the people who lived in the village thought about this arrangement. I did not attend his church, but gradually went out and about a bit more. I pretended that no one knew I was living there. I hardly ever saw anyone else but David anyway.
David simply and without expectation, looked after me – you might say parented me. Mostly he fed me. I was not working, and spent a lot of time reading, and sometimes entertaining the odd girlfriend when he was out for the day. I worked my way through a lot of Dickens volumes.
The Reverend David continued his life pretty much as it was before I moved in. He went about his parish duties, preaching on a Sunday, and looking after me.
Gradually I regained some of my old motivation, and applied to continue my education. I sold my house and continued to live with David. It came to a bitter sweet end when he was planning to go on a cruise, and offered to take me with him. I blurted out something about not being gay, and he visibly recoiled. I know now that his motives were from a purer love than a sexual attraction. Although the living arrangement continued, he became a little more distant and polite.
Eventually I moved out into a girlfriend’s flat – and he also moved house.
The final act of love occurred when my girlfriend was eight months pregnant and we were going to be evicted. David bought a house and rented it to us, paying the mortage off as we went, and allowing us to buy the remainder of the house when we were able to. When we married, he officiated.
When the Reverend David died, his family knew nothing of our friendship, and they overrode his wish to be buried in his favourite rural churchyard, which dated back to the stone age as a hilltop burial site, and was reputedly on a major ley line. The family organised a traditional service in the nearby town. I often thought of David and of how his last wish remained unfulfilled, and how I could somehow rectify it. I had been very upset by the family’s decision, and that our close relationship was never acknowledged.
So finally…..on the seventh anniversary of his death, on a beautiful warm late spring day, a small group of us who had been close to David travelled to that rural churchyard and while it was quiet and we were undisturbed, carried out a private ritual there, overlooking the river and countryside; some prayers and meditations, and a short personal goodbye, and buried under the apple tree a momento of one of his small trinkets which I had kept.; a perfectly crafted artificial egg, which symbolises renewal and the potentialities of life.
We felt David could rest there happily.
About the author
Peter is an ex local government manager, who has always enjoyed writing but never seemed to have the time. Attends creative writing classes which have improved writing confidence and stimulated the interest in sharing with others. He lives in Suffolk. He is retired, and now hopes to write good stories rather than boring reports!