The Day we went to Bushey

Monday, 23rd July, 2012 – a long day but a rewarding one. It was, of course, the day that Fr Neil Kelley, who left us a month before but was technically still vicar of St Faith’s and St Mary’s, actually became Rector of Bushey, in the Diocese of St Albans, Hertfordshire, and his installation was compassed about by a great cloud of northern witnesses.

We have a long tradition of coach-loads of our people venturing to distant parts, and especially to inductions of ex-vicars, but this day matched them all. There were about 47 of our congregations on the coach, a goodly number who came down by car, another goodly number of Neil’s friends and relations, a cross-section of Liverpool Diocesan clergy and a gathering of Mirfield ordinands and priests. All in all, there must have been 70 or 80 of ‘our folk’ in St James, Bushey by the time the service began.

It was a long haul south for the coach stalwarts, in increasingly hot weather. Our planned stop at Hilton Park was frustrated by a flood which had closed the facilities, so it was legs crossed until we could change drivers and move on to Corley, blessedly open for business. For this relief, much thanks – and on with the next leg of the journey, to spend an hour or so at St Albans.

This magnificent Abbey shrine deserved a day to itself, and we explored its cool and splendid interior and wandered round to the grave of Lord Runcie, St Faith’s most distinguished old boy, who was bishop there before moving on to Canterbury. Poignantly, it was bereft of decoration and headstone, as the latter was away to be engraved with the name of Robert Runcie’s wife, Rosalind, following her death some months ago.

From here it was a few miles’ run (although long and slow in the interminable traffic and the heat) to reach Bushey and the lovely ancient church set back on a beautiful village green. Both in its setting its architecture and general ambience, it reminded me of a large and lavishly-appointed village rather than a London outlier – definitely more ‘Dibley’ than I had expected! We were warmly greeted by the almost-Rector, as he ambled down from his rectory, and treated to tea, cake and biscuits in the adjacent hall – the welcome, clerical, lay and gastronomic, more than compensated for the seven hours it took us to penetrate this southern fastness.

There was time to soak up the atmosphere of the church green, the duck-pond, the lush greenery and the early evening sunshine - never has the north-south divide seemed so real! - before wandering over to the church and forming a solid phalanx of support in the pews, gazing round at the wonderful ancient fixtures and fittings and listening to the choir rehearse. We watched as Neil’s guests came in and the locals found seats. It was hard to estimate numbers, but our Bushey battalions may well have matched the numbers from Bushey parish.

The service, starting at 7.00 pm, was broadly familiar to those of us who have sat through many such occasions at St Faith’s and elsewhere. There were processions, anthems, and the established actions of institution and installation. The process was known as a Collation. This writer and his friends had thought this was what one did to a magazine, or with a plate of meats, but apparently it had to do with the patron being a bishop - the good old C. of E. specialises in such arcane titles and splendid solemn rituals. Fr Neil took the statutory oaths of obedience and allegiance, the Bishop preached over us, the Archdeacon, looking every inch a proper Archdeacon, did what  proper Archdeacons do on  such occasions, the Area Dean did likewise, and there was the usual succession of local worthies to greet their new incumbent. At one stage, Fr Neil was taken to the back of the church, where he tolled the bell to signify his arrival. A dubious tradition has it that incumbents stay as many years as they ring the bell at their institution. Bushey can therefore expect ten (or was it eleven?) years of their new rector!

Finally they all processed out into the sunshine and we strolled in the lovely warm evening past the Conservative Club and some promising-looking hostelries down the main street and along to the local R.C. Church hall for the bun fight. There it was time to satisfy hunger and thirst after righteousness, to meet and greet and indulge in photography. Just after 9.30 pm we got back on the coach, said our last goodbyes and set out for the distant north. Back in Crosby somewhere before 2 a.m. we could reflect on a day to remember, and what could be described as a glimpse of how the other half lives. Fr Neil has sent messages saying how much he appreciated our mass turn-out – and we were only too happy to provide it for him. We wish him every happiness and blessing as he starts this new phase of his ministry. By the time we got to bed, we may not have been exactly bright-eyed and Bushey-tailed – but we are sure that he was, and will continue to be!

Chris Price

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