Sad, but immensely privileged, to be in Winslow on Friday to help with the funeral of John Dale (1945-2008), Licensed Lay Minster. It’s a thriving parish, and a great pleasure to minister with Belnda Searle-Barnes, Vicar, even on a very sad day for everyone. Hundreds and hundreds of people came — indeed the roads were thick with people twenty minutes before. The weather was amazing — Dark clouds and thick hail in Winslow, then beautiful spring sunshine for the burial in Addington Churchyard.
John was a remarkable man, combining the roles of reader, sacristan, and general factotum in all things pastoral and practical. I’m almost always a virtual newcomer in any Church I visit. Visitors easily sense the quality of welcome and connectedness, spiritually and personally, in a congregation. John was the anchorman for both of these at Winslow; the special person who somehow catalysed the best in everybody else, as well as keeping things running smoothly in the background.
Everything in St Laurence vestry was immaculately kept but not in a fussy way. He was immensely loyal and gentle, improvising and easing things into order, so that services could just begin as though everything had been waiting to go for hours. But that wasn’t the best of John’s ministry. At the end of the service he’d stand in a Jeeves-like way by me in the porch whispering occasional comments — “that's Mr Smith; his daughter’s baby’s been ill and he’d never ask, but he’d love a word of prayer,’’ “Have you met Mrs Jones; her ruby wedding’s coming up, and you could bless her new eternity ring,” and so on and so forth. You get the idea. It was like pastoral satnav for Vicars. To this very inexperienced Bishop, John’s ministry was striking and just wonderful. Every Church needs someone like that, and more churches than you’d think do have somebody a bit like that. John raised this gift to an art form, in his own gentle, unassuming way.
Professionally speaking, John never did anything but a very ordinary clerking job. His peculiarly Church of England, lay, holiness was not about doing extraordinary things but noticing people, and doing ordinary things extraordinarily well. There was pain and sadness in John’s life, but he never let it cloud his clear awareness of the beauty and spiritual possiblities in everybody. John was a gentle, implicit, son of peace. Much love and support was there on Friday for Jean and Luke, his son.
Let God’s peace rest on John as he rests, until with him, we rise in glory!