Yesterday afternoon I watched my eldest grandchild, just five years old, perform on stage at her school in Newlyn in its Nativity Play, “A Midwife Crisis.” A wonderful performance from small children ably and sensitively taught and led by their teachers and helpers. That evening I went to the Carol Concert at one of my churches, St Just, of Cape Cornwall School. I was again impressed by the young talent on display. Creativity in west Cornwall is in good hands. Later that evening I dropped into St Just Fire Station, one of the fire stations I visit as part of my chaplaincy responsibilities for the Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service. Their drills over and Christmas nearly upon us, I was invited to stay and share their Chinese meal. A grand bunch they are and much good humour ensued.
This busy day, the events mentioned interspersed with other duties of a Methodist minister, followed a very busy weekend of regular church services, taking part in the switch on of the Christmas Lights of Newlyn and Mousehole and the blessing of a new baby for a couple I had previously married. My wife and I even managed to pop in on the birthday celebrations of some friends on the Friday evening. The weekend was bracketed by funeral services for three much loved local people all of whom I had known for some time, and in the close-knit communities of west Cornwall some people attended both the Monday farewells despite them being in the different villages of Mousehole and St Buryan.
Those two villages are important to me, not only because I am their Methodist minister but also because they are the birthplaces of my parents. My late mother was born in St Buryan and my father in Mousehole. I live now in Newlyn, where I am also minister, and which I visited often in my childhood it being the sometime home of my father’s parents after they had left Mousehole. I was born just along the road in Penzance where my daughter and her new husband live, while my sons both live in Newlyn with their families.
I am sure you are beginning to see why I have given this blog the title I have. I do feel enormously privileged to be able to follow my calling in a location that means so much to me, and that carries so much meaning for me, and with my family so near. Among the greatest of my privileges is to be Chaplain to the Penlee Lifeboat. I have had that role since 1998 but links with the lifeboat go much further back as they do for many of us in west Cornwall, back to when the ketch Baltic ran ashore in poor weather on Mousehole Island in 1907.
“Oh what became of the Lifeboat when the Baltic ran ashore?
They took the Lady White and launched her across the por.
The first man to volunteer was Mr. Stanley Drew.
Then five others followed him and rescued all the crew.”
The crew were: William Stanley Drew, Richard Thomas, Luther Harvey, Harry Harvey, Richard Harry and Charles Harry.
The crew were all fishermen, except for Dick Thomas, my great-grandfather and incidentally a founder member of Mousehole Male Voice Choir of which I am also honoured to be President. The Lady White was launched over the baulks at Mousehole on 1 November 1907, the Penzance Lifeboat stuck in the mud, to go to the rescue of the Baltic’s crew and passengers. After that incident, the Lifeboat moved to Penlee until it came to Newlyn. A poignant connection was yet to be made. That came on December 19th, 1981 when the Penlee Lifeboat was lost with all hands in the attempted rescue in terrible conditions of the Union Star. That Sunday morning, the next day, with the loss of the Lifeboat filling the consciousness of everyone in west Cornwall and far beyond, we baptised our first child just having brought her out of hospital where she had been very poorly. Grateful for her life, with so many others we mourned the loss of those brave lifeboat men and the people they had tried so valiantly, and almost succeeded, to save.
The crew of the Solomon Browne:
That last story in particular reminds me not to take my privilege for granted, to be thankful for my blessings but also aware that life has its dark and difficult and painful times, my life and my neighbours’ lives.
It is then that I realise anew the privilege of being able to minister in this locality, where those important ties of family, friendship and shared enterprise mean so much.
A friend shared on my Facebook page a film made of a new addition to the switch on ceremony for the Newlyn Christmas Lights, the blessing of the Penlee Lifeboats.
We have our annual service in the summer at Mousehole and there we remember the crew of the Solomon Browne. Here at Newlyn, Father Christmas leaping ashore from the Ivan Ellen, there was something in the lights and the fireworks lighting up the cold night sky that spoke of life in all its fullness, its joy and its sadness, its holding and its letting go.
As I reflect on these last few days and further back, I realise again and am thankful for again my great privilege in being able to minister in a place and among a people who mean so much to me.
What I asked for the lifeboats I ask for you, a blessing. May your Christmas and the coming year be blessed, and where sadness comes, as come it must for us all, may you find another alongside you to walk your walk with you.