Holding forth the word of life;
that I may rejoice in the day of Christ,
that I have not run in vain,
neither laboured in vain.
Philippians 2:16

Fight the good fight of faith,
lay hold on eternal life,
whereunto thou art also called,
and hast professed a good profession
before many witnesses.
1 Timothy 6:12

That winter’s night of 1964, had someone opened the church door and discovered me kneeling beside a priest they would not have believed their eyes!

Today, and rightly so, the gesture would be considered compromise, the selling-out to apostasy, but in fact it was a sincere albeit ridiculous attempt on my part to help a man in evident need. I relate the story as a warning to others.


One afternoon, as I strolled home along the country lane the few hundred yards from the post box in which I had dispatched a letter, the local priest’s muddy car drew alongside me. He invited me to jump in and he would give me a lift, a very amusing suggestion as my house was within sight. I sensed he wanted to talk, and sure enough, he did not bother to drive off.

Our conversation began on the fact that fifteen years earlier, although we had not known each other, we had been associated with Llandaff Cathedral, he as a theological student and I as a Dean’s Scholar chorister. He wondered why I had forsaken ‘the church’, which provided me with an opportunity to tell him about my conversion to Christ; that is, eight years after the laying on of the bishop’s hands, in a ‘Confirmation’ of a faith I did not possess.

The priest appeared to be only half listening, being much more concerned about an immediate problem that he shared with me. He told me he had just completed his daily round of pastoral visits, but why were the people so indifferent to what he called ‘church affairs’? ‘I’ve christened hundreds in this parish, not only the babies you see around here, but their parents too when they were infants, yet not one of them has any interest in the church, except for a few at Christmas and Easter.’ He was genuinely puzzled. I also knew, that to be sharing the problem with me, the young local pastor, he must have been very troubled indeed.

I suggested his problem was straightforward: the Bible knowing nothing about ‘christening’ [the supposed making of a Christian at the font], and his parishioners knowing nothing about ‘new birth’ [John3:7] and the truth about regeneration. ‘Your people are unsaved, they need to be born again, that’s why they’ve no interest in Christ.’ He stared straight ahead. ‘Preach the Gospel to them, calling upon them to repent and turn to Christ who made atonement for sinners.’ He remained perplexed.


It was at that point I amazed myself, by suddenly suggesting he and I should meet on a regular basis for prayer. Making it easier for him to accept I suggested his church should be the venue for our first meeting. I was hoping we would have further conversations about saving grace, an experience he clearly needed. To my astonishment, he accepted my idea, perhaps hoping he would get me back to ‘the church’!

Thus, a bleak winter’s evening a week or so later found me shivering in the church porch waiting for him to arrive. The countryside appeared bereft of inhabitants. It was a lonely vigil.

The scene that inky night was straight from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Edgar Allan Poe. The pathway leading from the church doors to a gateway was lined with an avenue of trees whose leaves ‘whispered’ eerily in the cold breeze, while crows screeched from others that bordered the graveyard, whose branches cast weird’ dancing’ shadows under the light of the moon. Facing me, on either side of the path, headstones stood erect in ranks like an army of motionless dwarfs waiting to advance. I shivered for more than one reason.


Suddenly, there he was! Through the darkness he materialised, in such a macabre setting like Count Dracula, dressed as black as the night: black cloak, clutched tightly around him against the cold, at the bottom of which swished a black cassock against his black shoes. To add to his startling appearance he wore a black clerical hat, its brim shadowing his face.

He mumbled a greeting without much enthusiasm before producing a giant rusty key, as if to open a dungeon door, and twisted it with effort in the lock. With the aid of his shoe the huge door creaked ajar, and we entered the darkness of the frozen building. It was a portent of the bleak, black spiritual temperature we were about to experience.

Inadequate lighting was switched on, and I followed the man in black down the shadowy aisle of cold stone towards the chancel; stained glass windows looming large ahead of us, through which the moon’s rays shone upon the altar. I suddenly felt transported back in time, to my days as an acolyte in the cathedral serving at such a place; that is, before the Lord rescued me and taught me the truth. Discomfort began to crawl over me. What was I doing there? The Lord, my Silent Companion, was undoubtedly asking the same question; a naïve desire to help had started to look foolish. How easy it is to trip over the very best of intentions.


The front pew had been reached, but instead of the simple matter of sitting in it, an embarrassed discussion ensued between this decidedly ‘odd couple’. It was amusingly eccentric: in which comer should we pray, and should we sit, kneel or stand to do so? We chose the spot, as draughty as any other, and knelt on sagging hassocks that had known many a knee and better days.

But then, another difficulty presented itself. We glanced uneasily at each other in the half-light; which of us should lead in prayer? For some unknown reason, courtesy I suppose, I suggested he did; after all, it was his church we were kneeling in. Immediately, I realised what I had done. I had encouraged him in his belief that ‘the church’ took precedence over ‘the chapel’, Anglicanism over Nonconformity. What a complicated affair is ecumenicity! Could I hear laughter in the cold night air?

Producing a battered prayer book, he swiftly sailed through a veritable sea of other peoples’ devotions, beautifully phrased prayers I recognised from my Anglican days, none of which bore any relation to our conversation on the roadside.

Then it was my turn, an extempore effort in more ways than one; his discomfort beside me creating negative vibrations. Clearly, my original plan, seeking to influence this priest was slithering into oblivion. In about twenty minutes, as a parable of what had taken place, we separated and made our way home in different directions. The following week, the venue was to have been my church, but ‘Count Dracula’ failed to materialise. Thankfully, the lop-sided idea had died. I was glad, and without doubt, he was too: never again.

Still, an important lesson was learned; that truth and error, light and darkness, oil and water, do not mix – nor should the futile attempt be made to try and force them to do so. Just as God’s chosen people enjoy fellowship together, so too is there a fellowship in spiritual dusk and darkness, and the modem ecumenical spirit supplies it. We must preach the truth to it, but keep clean from its influence.

Dr. Peter Trumper