Today is the feast day of St Aidan. Aidan has a special place in my heart because I have such fond memories of my time as a curate at St Aidan’s Church – part of Sheffield Manor Parish. I remember my first Sunday there. It wasn’t in church, but on a sponsored walk with members of the local probation hostel. Forty years on I remember the wonderful people I met on Norfolk Park, Claywood flats, Skye Edge, City Road, Manor and Manor Park.
Aidan was an Irish monk at a monatery in Iona. King Oswald was committed to restoring Christianity to the region. Oswald first sent a bishop named Corman for this task. He failed to make any headway, saying that Northumbrians were too stubborn to be converted. Aidan was then sent. Apparently he criticised the methods used by Corman. I wonder what Corman did wrong. We get a clue from the way the Aidan is reported to have gone about his task. Aidan did it slowly. He walked. He spoke politely to the people he met. One legend reports that the king gave Aidan a horse so that he wouldn’t have to walk. This undermined Aidan’s methods and he gave the horse to a beggar. Without the horse, Aidan could talk to people on their own level, and walk at their own pace. So, he slowly brought Christianity to the Northumbrian communities.
Lessons for us?
- Some methods of evangelism don’t work – and they never have.
- Level with people
- Slow down – be patient – take time
The Collect for St Aidan’s Day emphasises Aidan’s personal qualities:
you sent the gentle bishop Aidan
to proclaim the gospel in this land:
grant us to live as he taught
in simplicity, humility and love for the poor;
through Jesus Christ.
And why do I have such fond memories of St Aidan’s Sheffield? That’s because of the patience, humility and love of the person – John Jacob whose responsibility it was to train me as a curate. From that moment I have realised the importance of time. Learning, training and change all take time. They have to be timed well with gentleness, simplicity, humility and love.
I remember so many. They all had a part in my growing up. They include, in no particular order, Tom Collins, Betty and Geoff Frost, Jean Kemp, Eileen and Eva Goring, Margaret and Richard Gabbitas, Margery Allen, Eileen Pickering, Sidney Dyson, Stan Simpson, Richard Sissons, Ernest and Jean Clayton, Jean and Joanne Sainz, Doris Pennington, Janet Cobb, Harry Cox, John and Jean Jameson, Kev Windle, Andy Marshall, Mark Franey, Jeanette Ashton, Jane Mercer, Hilda Horton, George Gunson, Nora Coward, the Sambrook sisters (Ebb and Flo), Anne Asher, Betty Super, Dennis Garlick, Fred Kelk, Mark Mohammed, Barry Allen, Walter Green, Rosie Green. There were my colleagues. Besides John there was Ian Cameron, Jim Moore (who showed me such kindness), Joe Lister, Ray Draper and John Wood. There are many others whose names I can’t remember but whose lives I do. They will never have known the effect they had on me – together and as individuals.