Big World Small Boat

Private Diary of A Priest. OK, so we're not all angels...Everyone needs a place to get things off their chest! And yes, I do talk to God about it all! Even He has a sense of humour! Want proof? Well, he made me, didn't He? Oh, one last thought-If you don't like what I've written, please keep in mind - it's MY diary. Go write your own!

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Location: England, United Kingdom

I've been serving children in crisis for over twenty five years. My goals are not to raise money, but to find organisations and individuals who can help change lives! What may be outdated equipment for you could change the life of a child in Eastern Europe! To learn more please visit our site at:


Celebrating Easter Twice

I received an email from my friend Natalia in Moldova this weekend, asking me why did the Easter dates she and I celebrate often differ.

All throughout the Commonwealth and the Americas, this year the Anglo/Catholic Easter will be celebrated on the 21st of April. However, Easter will be celebrated on the 28th of April in the Christian Orthodox churches around the world.

Natalia asked an excellent question. She remembered my telling her last year that I had already celebrated Easter and I was joyful that I was in Moldova to celebrate it again with the children. 

In Western Christianity, the date of Easter is based on the Gregorian calendar and can fall between March 22 and April 25. The Eastern Christian tradition bases its calculations of Orthodox Easter on the Julian calendar, which differs from the Gregorian calendar by 13 days. This results in a possible date range of April 4 to May 8.

At first, I was first going to write Natalia and jokingly blame Pope Gregory for just wanting to keep us on our toes. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I feel she deserves an accurate answer and perhaps there might be some here who are interested.

So for all my friends here in Eastern Europe, I hope this helps. And to our friends around the world, I hope this makes sense. (and my usual apologies for being so loquacious!)

On the 1st of April we celebrate the most important date in our Christian calendar. Hopefully, churches will be overflowing. People jokingly say that the CofE (Church of England) also refers to Christmas and Easter – the only days you’ll get a Church of England member into a church. Sadly, that can hold more fact than fiction, sometimes.

But for those who aren’t attending church, and for many who go to church out of a sense of ‘well, we’ve always done it before, so we’ll keep on doing it, although we haven’t a clue what it’s all about,’ they will most likely be celebrating the original pagan festival of ‘Eastre.’ Eastre, ‘ the goddess of springtime and birth,’ or the literal term ‘offspring.’

In early times, missionaries who spread the Gospel, were compelled to blend Christian theology with the then currently practised pagan celebrations. This way, it prevented communities, who would have interpreted the message of Christianity to be detrimental to the growth of crops, from revolting. They would have also seen the promulgation of Christianity as a threat to the villages and health of the residents.

Eventually, the locals came to believe that by adding Christianity to their practices, it ‘might’ help their prosperity. However, at the same time, they held close to their original pagan rituals. Over time, the name Eastre morphed into Easter as more and more became converted.

The ‘church,’ which increasingly gained power over societies, continued to allow the use of pagan rituals so as to avoid anarchy among the people.

During the first centuries of Christianity, there was great disagreement over the true date of Easter. The first attempt at resolution was made at the First Ecumenical Council meeting, in Nicaea in AD325, which produced an acceptable calculation measured by the position of the moon.

It was agreed that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon, after the spring equinox. This was decided as it maintained a close link between scriptural records and the yearly celebration of Eastre/Easter.

However, there continued to be disagreement over the exact dates that Easter fell upon due to the fact that the four Gospels did not provide the actual date of the Resurrection. They only allude to the fact that it occurs in relationship to Passover, and on the first day of the week (Sunday). However, there still remains confusion.

At present Western churches still calculate the date of Easter using the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced in 1582, It remains today as the worldwide standard calendar.

Interestingly, most Orthodox churches, including the Russian church, maintain the older Julian calendar to calculate Easter’s date. Unfortunately, the Julian calendar does not sustain alignment in measuring solar years, such as keeping months in alignment with the seasons.

There has always been agreement that the celebration of the Resurrection should not be a sign of division among Christians. Unfortunately, that consensus was broken when Pope Gregory XIII reformed the calendar in 1582, thus again changing the dates for Easter. Most Orthodox churches refused to alter the method for calculating Easter.

In 1998 the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches, representing the majority of the world’s churches, agreed to set a common date for Easter. They agreed to use the current formula, but would also adhere to the most accurate astronomical scientific knowledge available. It was felt that this would help overcome any division that existed, whereby both traditions insisted upon retaining their old methods for calculating the date.

This is despite the fact that the formula actually isn’t entirely faithful to the original formula laid down by the early church. The formula, or algorithm, used today is known as the Nicaea formula. Unfortunately, a definitive decision regarding which calendar would be followed still has not been agreed.

So, during this decade there are actual dates when both calendars do fall on a common date. They included 2014 and 2017.

Despite this decision, there have been occasions when the world churches have had to resist intense pressure from governments, which were presumably pressured by highly paid lobbyists, and businesses, to hold Easter on the same date every year. (Sorry Hallmark, Nestlé, and Hershey).

The churches have been resolute in their determination to remain faithful to the Nicaea formula. The Resurrection is a divine event that keeps check with reality, rather than the convenience of world governments and its’ powerful businesses.

With all the discord that exists between churches, we pray that in the coming years there will be an agreement whereby we can all celebrate together.

In America, Britain, Australia and a few other countries, the ‘Easter egg’ and ‘Easter bunny’ stand as the commercial understanding of Easter. The bunny also originated with the pagan festival of Ēastre, and again, through the goddess
Ēostre, Anglo-Saxons worshipped the goddess through her earth-bound symbol the rabbit.

It was German settlers who brought the symbol of the rabbit to the Americas. In fact, it wasn’t embraced by the Americans until shortly after the Civil War. It may come as a surprise to some, that even the Resurrection itself wasn’t celebrated in America until the mid to late 1800’s.

The ‘Easter egg’ dates back to the earliest of time when it was a symbol of rebirth in most cultures. It was introduced to the Americans just after the Civil War.

In Eastern Europe the egg holds similar symbols of rebirth, but the spiritual attachment runs much deeper. To Orthodox Christians, the Paschal egg became the sealed tomb wherein the body of the Lord had been placed after His crucifixion.

Traditions state that the custom of the egg had its start with Mary Magdalene, who is often depicted in icons holding a red egg. She may have been aware that the Romans would know the meaning of the egg as something that brings forth life from a sealed chamber.

After Jesus was crucified and ascended to Heaven, Mary was in Rome. When she met with the Roman Emperor Tiberius, she gave him a red coloured egg and announced, 'Christos anesti!' (Christ is Risen!) She then went on to preach to Tiberius about Jesus. It was an intelligent choice on her part because it was something the Romans would have understood.

In the early days of Christendom, red was the only colour used in colouring the eggs, as it signified the sacred blood of Jesus which had been shed on Calvary.

During our Orthodox Paschal services in Moldova, the priest will bless the eggs. They are then distributed. The worshippers greet one another with the words ‘Christ is risen!’ (Hristos a înviat). At the same time they hit their egg against the other person’s as they respond ‘He is Risen Indeed!’ (El a înviat cu adevărat!). This supplication symbolises a mutual prayer for the breaking of one’s bonds of sins and misery. It also stands for entering the new life we receive from Christ’s resurrection.

Eventually, none of the eggs will remain unbroken. The breaking of the egg emphasises that our Lord had conquered death and is risen, granting new life to all. The egg is then consumed as a symbolic breaking of the Lenten fast.

There are many variations on the use of the egg throughout religions. Even in Iran, the egg is used during Nowrooz, which is the Persian New Year. It too celebrates new life.

I consider myself very fortunate, in that I have the honour of celebrating Christ’s resurrection twice; in England, and with my friends in Moldova, Romania and The Ukraine. Regardless of where I am in person, I will certainly be in spirit!

He has Risen Indeed!

CHRIST our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, Not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; * but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 1 Cor. v. 7. BCP '28

How blessed is this day, when earth and Heaven are joined and humankind is reconciled to God! May the light of Jesus shine continually to drive away all darkness. May Christ, the Morning Star who knows no setting, find His light ever- burning in our hearts—He who gives His light to all creation, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen. BCP '79

Írásos Bill atya gyűjteményéből. Imádkozunk az egészsége. LR

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Good Friday - The Three Hours

Tre Ore, the ‘three hours’ is the name of the solemn service we attend on Good Friday, from noon until 3pm. During this time we meditate on the Seven Last Words of Christ, the seven utterances Jesus delivered from the cross, which are selected from the Four Gospels:

1. ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’
2. ‘Truly I say unto you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’
3. ‘Woman, behold your son! ... Behold, your Mother.’
4. ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?
5. ‘I thirst.’
6. ‘It is finished.’ (tetelestai, or to be more accurate 'τετέλεσται')
7. ‘Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.’

Cursed, beaten and forced to carry His own cross, Christ’s crucifixion on ‘Good Friday’, is the blackest day in Christian history.

Good Friday leads us to focus on the death of the innocent. Perhaps as we pray today we will reflect on the crucifixion and will be aware, perhaps uncomfortably, of a resonance between the unjust death of Jesus and the many unjust deaths in our world.

There are many opinions about the origins of the term Good Friday. Some scholars argue that the word ‘Good’ is an abbreviation of ‘God.’ And early Christians commemorated the sad event by calling it ‘God's Friday.’ Others claim that ‘good’ signifies the bounty of blessings we’ve received through salvation itself that Christ won for humankind in His sacrifice.

Ukraine, Syria, Moldova, Romania and yes, even the Americas - the countless homeless and starving children who will simply slip away to nothingness in the cold, it’s too easy to simply turn our minds to chocolate eggs, football matches and whether we have the latest fashion accessory. Sadness exists just as it always has - the innocent are killed now, just as then, either because they present a threat, or because they simply get in the way or are instruments of mankind’s perversions. Innocent death provokes outrage, and with it a longing for justice, and sometimes revenge.

We’ve become so accustomed to media interviewers sticking microphones into the faces of those whose loved ones have been unjustly killed and asking ‘what do you feel?’ This always seems so perverse and tasteless - we know what the injured must feel, and it seems cheap to expose their feelings of outrage and hate just for our own salacious entertainment.

And yet perhaps we want the interviewer to ask, because we’ve come to believe that only by expressing hatred the living can do justice to the innocent dead. We crave for the bereaved to be angry and implacable. We even use religion to sanctify these feelings. In medieval times Good Friday was a day when Christian mobs assaulted the Jews because the Gospels said their ancestors were to blame for the death of Jesus.

But if that is what Good Friday is about then the Church is no better than the mobs. The point of this day is not that Christians become incited about the Crucifixion and vow to destroy Christ’s enemies. It’s a day for repentance and worship. What does that say to the innocent deaths in Afghanistan, Romania, Moldova, and all the other personal horrifying murders we know about and mourn for? Is it only the bereaved who must speak for the dead?

What would happen if the dead came back and spoke for themselves? And what does it say about those who had killed them, about us? Would they come back in spirit? Would they return seeking revenge, or would they bring us a message of forgiveness and reconciliation from God?

It’s an important question because on Good Friday the Church calls us to see death - all death - through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. The dead are gathered into Christ in their dying and the Christian hope is that they are given back to us in His resurrection.

When Christ returned from death He came both bearing the marks of the cross, and bringing the forgiveness of sins. He offered the same peace to those who loved Him and to those who had betrayed Him. Could we allow the innocent dead to bring us peace this Easter?

Whatever your faith, try investing in forgiveness. It often isn't easy, but you'll be amazed by the weight it lifts from your heart!

posted from Fr Bills Collection LR Imádkozunk az egészsége

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Mothers Day? Is it Just for Women?

I’ve always tended to look upon our school headteachers as wise captains of ships, full of young malleable, and impressionable minds. A headteacher’s wisdom and guidance serves to nurture and inspire those dedicated teachers who give so much of their lives to help develop our nation’s children towards adulthood.

So I was shocked to read that Helen Starkey, the headteacher of Johnstown Primary School in Wales, made the decision to ban Mothers Day. Well, in fairness, as I understand it, she has banned the children from preparing Mother’s Day cards, and any associated events. Her reason was not out of cruelty, but I suspect, more so as a result of falling prey to the advancement of America’s commercial marketing grasp on the rest of the world. According to Mrs Starkey, her reason was out of ‘sensitivity,’ as five percent of her students were separated from their natural birth mother.

Here in Britain Mother’s Day is actually known as Mothering Sunday, and is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent. However, it has no association with the American holiday in May known as Mother’s Day, or as some cynics call it, (me being the leader of that cynicism!) ‘Hallmark Day.’ I'm further saddened by the fact that the american term is slowly becoming entrenched in the psyche of Britain. But that's a rant of mine for another day.

Mothering Sunday's original translation from Latin is a derivative of ‘Refreshment’ or ‘Laetare Sunday,’ during Lent: the first words of the opening prayer of the Mass are Laetare Jerusalem (Rejoice Jerusalem), and honour is given to the Mother Church. The extension to actual mothers was gradual, and evolved at time when children, mainly daughters, who had gone to work as domestic servants, were given a day off to visit their family.

Now it is a day when children give presents, flowers, and cards to their mothers. But it can also be recognised, in its truest form, as a time to recognise those who practice the act of mothering. The dictionary defines ‘mothering’ as ‘to care for or protect.’ It is not gender specific. Unfortunately, as the distance between continents become shorter, the commercial aspects of this date overpower its broader and possibly purer origins.

‘Mothering’ comes from carers, nurses, male parents, or anyone who serves or cares for others, those who provide loving, nurturing care as if they were the mother to the individual. These people are so often forgotten or ignored and I find it heartbreaking that due recognition is seldom given. The individual who has cared for an invalid or elderly person, who needed mothering in its truest sense, may be forgotten this Sunday and at all other times.

Each year I make it a point to remind my staff in Moldova and Romania of the importance of our roles as carers, nurturers, encouragers, and especially loving parents of the children who have come into our lives. Again, in the truest sense of the word, we are mothering to the children -providing the love and guidance they long for and deserve. 

Most Sundays in the year churchgoers in England worship at their nearest parish or ‘daughter church.’ Centuries ago, it was considered important for people to return to their home or ‘mother’ church once a year. So each year in the middle of Lent, everyone would visit the main church or Cathedral of the area.

Over time the return to the ‘mother’ church became an occasion for family reunions when children who were working away returned home. (It’s difficult to comprehend that less than a hundred years ago children who were as young as nine or ten would leave their village home to work in cities like London.)

And most historians believe that it was the return to the ‘Mother’ church which led to the tradition of children, particularly those working as domestic servants, or as apprentices, being given the day off to visit their families. As they travelled along country lanes, children would collect wild flowers or violets to take to church or give to their mother as a small gift.

The American holiday, which has sadly become so commercialised, began in 1912 when an International Mother’s Day association was formed, as a result of the efforts of a Methodist spinster, who recognised the importance of strengthening family ties. The United States Congress passed a joint resolution marking the second Sunday in May as ‘their’ official ‘Mother’s Day.’ It was then proclaimed as a national holiday.

The American date failed to catch on in countries where the US didn’t have strong influence or control, because within the resolution was the mandate that the American flag be displayed on all homes and government buildings in reverence to the mothers of America. It just smelled a bit too nationalist for other countries.

No matter who it is that nurtures, cares for, supports, defends, helps and loves, they certainly deserve accolades of gratitude, praise and love. Today, above all, please don’t forget to recognise them, no matter where in the world you may be!

And if you simply can’t think of anyone at all….you could always hug a priest. There’s not enough of that either!


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It's Life Jim But Not As We Know It

During a recent visit to one of our area's many homes for the elderly I was outraged to hear a carer yelling at one of the residents. The carer didn’t know I was there. I had just entered the door of the home, as I usually do, and I heard his vitriolic diatribe coming from within the house.

As I looked around the corner I saw a frail woman clinging to her Zimmer frame, (walker), trying to move down the hallway. The carer was standing at the door to the toilet with an angered look on his face. I needn’t repeat what the man said, but he was berating her because she urgently needed to use the toilet.

The man’s demeanour changed instantly when he saw me, as I crossly demanded to know what the problem was. His excuse was that she couldn’t hear so he had to shout. I was livid and I know it showed on my face. I asked him if he required any assistance. The carer said ‘no thanks’ as he stood waiting for the woman to finally reach him.

As she went into the toilet, I immediately turned to look for the home's manager. There was no one to be found. There were four residents in the sitting room. Two were sleeping (or so I hoped), in their chairs, one was rather absently staring at a blaring television and the fourth resident was gazing off into nowhere.

I eventually learned there was only one person in the home to care for everyone. The manager had gone out to ‘buy groceries.’

Set aside the fact that this was altogether illegal, these residents, who were incapable of caring for themselves, were at the mercy of this one foul mouthed and heartless individual. He certainly did not demonstrate compassion for the woman’s plight, nor did he demonstrate patience.

I tried to look at the situation objectively, trying to feel badly for the carer over the fact he was left alone to care for all these people, but I quickly snapped out of that mindset when I reminded myself that the other residents I saw would not have been an inconvenience to anyone. And the language he used towards the frail woman was unacceptable in any setting!

The experience left me with extremely uncomfortable images as well as guilt. There is a powerful verse in the Bible that says ‘Don't cast me away when I am old; when my strength fails, don't forsake me.’ Psalm 71:9

Homes such as these are a product of our Western society. And sadly, it’s the ‘other end’ of the spectrum of problems we have with today’s youth. In the middle, (well, actually throughout), it is a clear barometer for the erosion of family values, as well as the family unit.

For young parents it’s easier to leave all of the education for our children to the schools, and when the children become adults, it’s more ‘convenient’ to leave the care for our parents to institutions.

Every month there’s someone heralding new discoveries that will extend our lives even further.

When will there be a discovery on how to extend living?

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Thank You Sarah

It was just past midnight as I sat in hospital with my friend Sarah. Her children and grandchildren had gone home for some much needed rest. It was obvious that Sarah was at the end of this life's journey and preparing for her next. The nursing staff had kindly moved her into a private room, affording more privacy and dignity.

I had brought with me a small radio and a book, which I read to Sarah during the night. And I was prepared to offer her Viaticum (a prayer of provision for her journey) as morning broke. It was our private time together.

It was close to 2AM when Sarah opened her eyes. I had stopped reading and was watching the shallow rise and fall of her frame as her body instinctively fought, clinging to the last vestige of life. The music that softly played from the small radio was Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending.

I asked Sarah if she would mind my saying prayers for her now. She had such a sweet and lovely radiance in her face. I found a tissue in my pocket and wiped a tear that ran from her eye. I stroked her hair and briefly thought of her sisters and children.

Almighty God, look upon Your servant Sarah, as she lies here in weakness. Comfort her with the promise of life everlasting, given in the resurrection of Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sarah surrendered her mortal life a few hours later, with dignity and embraced in love.

Thank you Sarah. Thank you for the honour of being my friend.

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A Bedside Prayer for Death of a Child

I was honoured to have attended a child’s passing last night. Kayleigh was nine years old. She would have turned ten in November. Leukaemia had ravaged her body and she was extremely weak from both the illness and the aggressive treatments she had endured over the past few months.

Several hours earlier, the doctors had worked determinedly to resuscitate her when her heart failed. I didn’t need to ask in this case, I instinctively knew that Kayleigh’s mother still had not moved to acceptance that her daughter’s body was failing and thus had refused to sign the ‘DNR’ order, allowing Kayleigh’s spirit to pass on without further interference with her body. But you could see in the eyes of the kind doctor and nurses that they knew what the inevitable outcome would be.

In the early afternoon Kayleigh was talking with her seven-year-old sister Justine and mother. I sat in a chair far in the corner of the room. I could still just barely hear them speak, but couldn’t always clearly hear what was being said. Justine had been devotedly swabbing Kayleigh’s lips with a small sponge on a stick to provide moisture to her lips.

It was just before 5 when Kayleigh’s mother said she needed to take Justine home where her grandmother was preparing dinner. She would return within the half-hour. I promised I would remain with Kayleigh while she was gone.

As I walked with the mother and child to the doors of the ward, Justine looked up at me and said ‘ Kayleigh said she is going to send each of us a card.’ She said it with that beautiful conviction that only children can show, as if they were speaking of Father Christmas arriving the following morning. ‘That’s wonderful Justine,’ I said. ‘I’ll look forward to hearing from her.’

I said goodbye at the hallway and watched the pitiful figure of the mother move down the hallway, with Justine half-skipping, half-running beside her. I could hear Justine cheerfully chatting away about something as I turned back into the hospital ward.
When I returned to Kayleigh’s room, she was still. Her eyes were open and in any other setting, saving the pale grey appearance of her skin, you might have thought she was just gazing at the ceiling. It had only been a matter of minutes from when we had walked out the door to my return and Kayleigh's body had taken its last breath.

I felt the tears welling up in my eyes, but I also felt myself smiling. She was at peace. But there was something much more powerful in the moments that had passed. Kayleigh had fought hard to remain there for her mother and sister – to impart that powerful message to Justine – that she’s only going on a journey, not that she simply wouldn’t exist anymore.

And for both her mother and sister, Kayleigh’s passing occurred at a moment when little Justine would not have been subjected to a repeat of her mother’s frantic and poignant fight to try to protect her daughter from a disease that had ravaged the child’s body.

One of the nurses named Betty, came into the room and saw me standing at the end of the bed. It only took seconds for her to realise that Kayleigh had passed. I was deeply touched because without any words she put her arms around me and hugged me. Betty removed the IV line whilst I closed Kayleigh’s eyes and together we straightened the bed and turned down the lights. I didn’t really think about it, but I took a floppy eared sock rabbit that Justine had brought her sister from the nightstand and tucked it in beside Kayleigh.

I asked Betty if she would like to stay with me as I offered prayers for Kayleigh. She held up her finger to indicate ‘just a moment,’ and she left the room. Seconds later she returned with another nurse and one of the ward assistants. We gathered around Kayleigh’s bed and prayed:
Christ Jesus, most merciful Saviour,
Hear our prayers as we gather in Your name
We commend this child into Your arms of mercy.
Kayleigh has been a blessing to all who knew her.

She brought laughter, warmth, and comfort to many
And in the moments when her mother and others showed despair
Kayleigh provided a noble message of hope and promise,
in her unfailing conviction that her life here may be limited
but is by no means final.

Grant comfort and strength to those who gather here now,
dedicating their lives to the care of others,
who often must face life as it moves to shadows.
Embrace them with Your eternal love
through everything they do.

Thank you for the love we would never have known,
but for Kayleigh’s brief days with us.

May the angels surround Kayleigh
and the saints welcome her with joy.

Lord God, we commend this child to Your everlasting care.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

One of the staff very sweetly offered to remain with Kayleigh as I walked to the entrance of the hospital to await the return of her mother.
Now Lord, You let Your servant go in peace. Your word has been fulfilled. Support us O Lord all the day long of this troublous life. Until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes. The busy world is hushed, The fever of life is over and our work is done. Then Lord, in Your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, A Holy rest, and peace at last. Through Christ our Lord. Amen


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My Mea Culpa Gulpa or No Good Deeds Go Unpunished Dilemma

"Guilty."  Had I been presented with the same limited information, I too would have had no other recourse but to find myself guilty. That was the result of my heart-breaking experience with our judicial system, exacerbated by a local employee of the Council who, with great delight and avidity, egged on some of her 'friends' with the local press, to ensure maximum exposure for their cause. 

Did I have displayed on my dashboard the Blue Badge of someone who had recently died? Yes, I did. Was I aware that I had displayed the Blue Badge of the poor soul who passed? Absolutely NOT!

My 'Mea Culpa' is most certainly not an excuse, but I pray it may provide a scintilla of encouragement for anyone who may find themselves in similar circumstances. I'm heartbroken to say that what I believed would be my opportunity to defend myself, providing all of the salient evidence, simply did not occur. And for reasons I still have no answer, I'm grateful that I have support from some governing bodies who are determined to find out why. 

And I'm saddest to say that the very professionals in whom I had placed my unequivocal trust, in my opinion, let me down when I needed them the most. I was embarking upon a process I knew virtually nothing about.  Their failure, I believe, contributed to this heart-breaking debacle.

First, a bit of background. Back in 2015 I had been diagnosed as suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This is certainly not an excuse, but it provides a fragment of light on perhaps where my mind was at the time. I acknowledge that I was distracted and sometimes found it challenging to focus. But I was working diligently to ensure my own personal challenges did not impact those I was serving, be it at their end-of-life journeys, or for my mission in Eastern Europe.

Again, not an excuse; However, to quote the doctor who issued my diagnosis:

"I can confirm that Fr Haymaker suffered from quite severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which was proportionate to the magnitude of the trauma. Indeed, in his circumstances, the trauma was very severe, it was purposeful and premeditated and designed for him to feel responsible for the event. Obviously people with PTSD on average appear more forgetful and absent-minded, upset or depressed..."

This event occurred as a consequence of my work in Eastern Europe with victims of child-trafficking. For nearly three years I had worked diligently to have closed a 'children's brothel' in Transylvania Romania. This particular brothel was the last stop along a well-worn route followed by Russian/Albanian Mafia and other traffickers from the Russian/Ukrainian border through Transnistria, Moldova, over the Carpathian Mountains, in to Western Romania and on to Hungary, where children are routinely bartered and sold to points north, south, and west.

It was thanks to assistance from the Moldovan Prime Minister that I was finally successful in getting the necessary officials to conduct a raid on the brothel, resulting in arrests of numerous local officials. Without help from the highest levels in both Moldova and Romania I suspect the brothel would have continued unfettered. It was a time of jubilation and relief after years of gut-wrenching sadness.

However, it was ten days later that an event occurred outside my home in Moldova that had the most profound impact upon me. And it was this event, that I admit even today,  I still struggle with in pushing back the mental photographs that pop up with alarming regularity.

It had been raining perpetually for several days. As the rain finally subsided, my security staff found there was a large 200 litre oil barrel left outside the gates to my home. My staff thought it would be excellent as a receptacle in which to burn rubbish. They began to roll it into the compound. However, due to the weight they had to tip the barrel over to empty the dark liquid.

It was to their horror that they discovered the body of a child, 10-11 years old. She had been tortured and there was a bullet hole in her head. Tightly twisted around the child's neck was a wire with a plastic packet containing a letter addressed to me. The letter said "Dacă vă întoarceți aici, vom veni în Anglia. Vă vom viola fiica. Atunci ne vom întoarce și ne vom ucide pe toți copiii voștri." (The following is paraphrased in the interest of avoiding the most graphic details):

"If you come back here we will come to your home address in England (which they provided) and we will rape and kill your daughter, (stating her name), and we will then come kill each child in your home here."

Perhaps magnified by the fact I had within the same period been collecting the bodies of dead children from Romanian sewers, as well as the body of a decapitated child, as a consequence of Russian separatist activities in the Ukraine, this final atrocity had such a profound impact upon me I knew there was 'something' that had changed within me. 

I think, in retrospect, I tried relying upon my own devices, as well as my fervent belief in prayer and reflection, including the Sacraments to help re-set my compass to find a modicum of calm. But my close friends tell me they had seen a profound change in me. According to them I had become removed and less interactive with people. And in light of the threats regarding coming to my home, I confess I occasionally experienced moments of palpable fear. My greatest comfort was in the fact I was grateful that my daughter had graduated Uni and was now working abroad. Yet, I found myself still having surges of fear exacerbated often by grotesque nightmares that robbed me of my sleep.

We were now approaching the Christmas period - two days before Christmas Eve to be exact. My daughter and I were scheduled to spend a week together on the Continent, subsequently ending with my celebrating the Orthodox Christmas with the children in Moldova. I was extremely (and probably unhealthily) anxious about her safety, but tried never to let her know how much it was eating at me. The tangible 'threats' I had received were perpetually invading my ability to sleep and especially to remain focused at times. However, I least to myself...that I could handle it and these feelings would eventually pass.

Now, I back up slightly to late October of the same year.  I had the honour of serving a young couple. The couple had been working as expat teachers in the Middle East, when the wife was diagnosed with aggressive cancer.

Heartbreakingly, the prognosis was poor and the couple returned to the UK so she could receive whatever medicines possible to help prolong her life. Again, the prognosis remained grim.  Their sad situation was compounded by the fact that with typical Middle East Expat contracts, the fact they had to come home immediately invalidated their employment contracts, thus robbing them of their salaries and any contractual pay.  In other words, they were about as near to destitute as you can imagine. This is where I offered as much assistance as I could.

I helped them to circumvent the often crippling costs and fees charged by some  Undertakers. The couple didn't qualify for any benefits as they had been residing outside of the UK.  Relying upon friends, I assisted in sorting the funeral for, as I best recall, somewhere around £200, plus the mandatory fees from the council for registrations, doctors certificates, grave, and interment fees.

As the husband and wife had agreed that it would be imperative for him to find a teaching contract in the UK immediately, I asked friends who were educators to assist and I encouraged him to go on any interviews he may require. 

I remained overnight at Hospice for four nights with the dear lady. My poor Jack Russell, who faithfully gave all he could, clearly was becoming worn down and I called a friend to come collect him so he could have his own respite. But it was early the following morning that she passed. I was honoured to be with her and am grateful at how peaceful her passing was. 

The husband, I was happy to learn, had secured a teaching position, which would require him reporting to school in less than ten days time. He had lots to do in clearing the property they had rented for the brief period and preparing himself both professionally and emotionally before he began employment in a new town quite far away from our local area. To help him I agreed to register his wife's death and to sort all the paperwork required for the burial. 

Typically, when you register a death, you bring with you any DWP papers, identification, Bus Passes, Blue Badges, etc., with you and the Registrar's office takes care of this for you.

However, for reasons I never knew at the time, (I think it was because the husband had borrowed several cars over the preceding weeks), he did not have the Blue Badge to present on the day I registered the death.

We arranged for a graveside service with interment on a Thursday. I could not do later days as I was scheduled to fly to Moldova around 6AM on Friday morning. And, because it would have added much more pressure upon the husband, it was practical to celebrate the simple grave-side service immediately, rather than forcing him to immediately take time off from his new position to bury his wife weeks later.

The graveside funeral was a quiet, private, dignified affair. Whilst in the cemetery, following the interment, the husband handed me several items; some kitchen cutlery and an appliance he wished me to take with me to Moldova. He also handed me the Blue Badge to deal with myself. I didn't say anything to suggest he could do it. I simply placed it in my glovebox with a mental note that I'd deal with it once I returned to the UK the following week.

Herein lay my decline - my first 'Mea Culpa.' I simply forgot about it. During the course of any month I have a minimum of three and generally a maximum of seven Blue Badges sitting in my glove box. They're for the people I transport to clinics for their Chemotherapy treatment, or to doctor's appointments, etc.

Move forward six weeks to December 22nd. I'm quick to admit I was already finding it challenging to hold my head above water. On that day I had two people whom I was to transport at different times, to clinics for Chemo, one couple to an afternoon doctor's appointment, and a request from a Funeral Director to do a 'quick' tree blessing, and I had one particularly close friend whose battle with Oesophageal Cancer was drawing to a close. (She was at the time paramount in my heart and mind), And I had a massive list of goods and food items I needed to collect and buy to pack in my baggage to take to Moldova. I was excited about seeing my beloved daughter as well when we would spend Christmas together, but I could feel my anxiety levels increasing each time the threat would resurface in my mind.

Early on December 22nd, I collected my first LOL (Little Old Lady) of the morning, I asked her to place her badge on the dash. She rummaged in the glove box and placed a Badge in the window on the passenger side of the car. I really didn't give it any further thought.  When we arrived there was no parking anywhere due to a number of mini-skips being in front of the surgery. I didn't wish for her to be late and I told her that I'd drop her off, then swing round two streets over and drop off my hearing aids for adjustment, at the local SpecSavers, then come straight back.

There is something exasperatingly frustrating with Blue Badges issued through Macmillan - the Cancer Support Agency. The badges do not contain on the front either the name of the Badge holder, nor a photo, unlike Blue Badges issued through other organisations.  It is virtually impossible to tell which badge belongs to which individual without each time physically ripping the card out of its' holder and turning it around to verify the name, then having to fit it back into the scored sleeve which holds them. Save the expiry dates they all look exactly the same. 

I parked in a bay at the bottom of the road, knowing that at the top of the road all bays were either for loading or disabled. My interaction at SpecSavers was literally handing the hearing aids, contained in a small pouch, to the clerk at reception, then going back out to the car. All-in-all, it was less than 4-5 the most. 

As I came up to the car there was a man who said he was from parking enforcement, or something like that... I wasn't exactly sure of what he said, but that seemed to be the gist of it. He asked me if I were the Blue Badge holder. I told him I wasn't and explained what I had done. I even invited him to ride with me the two blocks over to confirm that I had dropped my LOL off and was literally swinging back around to collect her. He thanked me, but said it wasn't necessary. 

He went on talking for a bit. But I was surprised when he asked me whether I knew someone he named. I replied that "I certainly did and that she had recently passed away." I recall he asked how I knew this and I explained that I had been with her when she passed. He asked if I had cared for her and I said "yes."

The man told me that the Badge I had displayed actually belonged to the person he named. I told him what had happened and that I'd clearly mixed them up. He behaved as if it were no big deal and that was the end of the matter. He told me that if there were anything he needed to speak with me about it would probably not be until after the New Year and he said I might have to "get my hand slapped," but that would be the end of it. 

I gave it no further thought. That is until March came around and I was shocked to receive a letter from the council saying I had to appear for a 'Caution Advisement.' I didn't give it any further thought, believing this must be the 'hand slapping' to which he had alluded.

It was much to my utter shock when I learnt that I was to be prosecuted for the use of the Badge, despite my explanation and offer to have the individual I was transporting that morning confirm this fact. (Plus the fact it was she who had placed a badge on my dash board). 

I retained legal counsel. A very nice young man who, in fact, easily understood how such a mistake could have been made for he also had his own Blue Badge due to an advanced coronary condition.  The solicitor assured me that what would be my defence is the fact that whilst I may have displayed the badge, I certainly did not do so with the intent of gaining any benefit. Plus, he added that according to the law the crux of the matter was centred around 'intent.' And he felt it would be quite straight forward to show any jury that I certainly had no intent of using the badge for personal gain. 

We discussed whether it was better to leave it to a Magistrate to adjudicate or have a jury - "twelve good men and true." It was decided that it would be best to have the jury hear the case and see my defence evidence, including my witnesses supporting what I was doing on the day, along with my photographic evidence - the photos I had taken of where I was on the day. 

The waiting for a court date was excruciating. It was compounded by the fact I had some medical issues I was dealing with at the time. I was looking forward to presenting my evidence - all of it. 

The day before I phoned my barrister to confirm where and what time I was to appear. However, I was told I needed to wait until after 4PM to get a confirmation of the court I was to attend. It was around 4:30 that I received a call from the law firm's secretary, telling me I had to be in Chichester for 10AM the following day and the barrister I had met with multiple times would be there. 

So wound up was I, especially as I was now having to place further demands on those who so kindly wanted to speak on my behalf, to have to drive to Chichester early the next morning to do so I admit my nerves were frayed beyond words. Thankfully, The Venerable Mr Piddles provides a calming affect and he was working overtime to keep me calm. 

It was about 0950 that we were walking from the car park to the court house when my mobile rang. A lady was asking where I was and why wasn't I there! I told her I'd been instructed to come for 10AM and was doing so and was literally across the street. Apparently, the solicitor's office failed to tell me that we needed to be there much earlier. Had I known I would have been happy to. We'd driven to Chichester the night before, paid for hotel rooms, and were waiting for the time came to go to the court. 

The judge was already put out. (to state it mildly). I had no idea that not only had the judge wanted to start early, she stated on multiple occasions that she only had a limited time to hear the case as she had to be somewhere else and would be leaving the court no later than 1:30pm that afternoon. 

Taking in all of the above it seems of no real consequence I suppose. The kicker, however, was the fact that we discovered to my horror that my Barrister hadn't shown up! Much of what happened after that left me in a bit of a daze as my head was swimming so badly. At the same time I learnt that not only had my Barrister not appeared, he had failed to submit my evidence. And as a final insult, he also had failed to provide a witness list - items that are all required to be done in advance!  

The Prosecutor had conveniently removed the badge ID from its case and photographed the front and back of the actual ID side-by-side, suggesting that you can see both the ID number and the user's name clearly at all times. The defence I had provided included a badge inside a case, just the way anyone would see them, to show that you could not tell which badge belonged to which person.  But the jury never got to see this. That was my evidence; evidence that I was unable to present. 

And as the Prosecutor rapid-fired questions towards me, asking the names of the people I was transporting two years prior I desperately tried to answer him, but clearly tripped over some of the names - such was my state of mind at the time. Again, certainly not an excuse, but being focused while ensconced within  the miasma of PTSD made it evident that I could no more tell you what I had been doing the week prior, much less eighteen months or more earlier!

I say this with a bit of irony; had I been presented with a photo the way the Prosecutor's photo was made, I too would have found myself guilty! This is because I would have no way of realising that in everyday use it's simply impossible to see which badge belongs to which person. 

So here I am. It's over. Tetelestai. However, my tail is not between my legs yet. Thankfully, we have a robust support system through the Law Society who have offered to assist me. They feel there's a number of questions which need to be addressed. And they're providing assistance with the appeal process. 

I think anyone's first inclination after an experience such as this is to curl up in the dark and eat copious quantities of ice cream. I refuse to do so. Not only for myself, but it has become clear to me there are other people who have had similar experiences. 

Indeed, it's heartbreaking on so many levels. But I must take the opportunity to extend a written word of gratitude to so many people who have reached out to me, offering support and encouragement. Some emails have been humorous in their support. Others have been succinct, but equally supportive. And the overall message is their awareness that I became an easy target, partially because I was already 'down,' but also because it has always been my nature to take a passive position when it comes to wrongs being committed. 

Thank you - all of you, from the depths of my heart. I lack the vocabulary to tell you how grateful I am for your support, encouragement, and steadfast belief in me. 

I only pray that you never encounter a similar experience in your own life. 

Fr Bill+  

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Words of Comfort For the Dying

What do you say to someone who is dying? What words of comfort for the dying can you offer? And especially, how do we offer prayers for the dying?

A parent of friends of mine is currently in our local hospice. It’s sad to see that his deterioration has come so rapidly and particularly in that he has so clearly been fighting for survival. On Saturday, he was unconscious and it was thought that he would soon pass. But on Sunday morning, he was chatting with his wife and hospice staff. This is not unusual.

It’s a common occurrence to see people in the final hours of their lives, moving between a peaceful calm and an anxious state. There is clearly a struggle in their spirit to live. And it’s a fact that the strength of that spirit is undeniably tied to their struggle to remain on this earthly plain. Even though their physical bodies are failing and damaged beyond our ability to repair, the powerful spirit within that individual – that deep instinct to protect our human shell, fights to accept any kind of quality of life that is offered them.

Death is that moment of passing that comes as the spirit acknowledges that these mortal remains are no longer able to sustain its presence. And it is okay to acknowledge this, to accept it as yet another part of our journey. In fact, this is where the presence of family, friends and carers can often help most, with their words of comfort and prayers. The dying will come to accept the new journey that their spirit needs to take.

If you’re a family member, speak of the happy times you’ve shared together, the celebrations you’ve had, the joys you’ve experienced together and never forget to share how much you love them. Acknowledge that this is just an interval in time and that you will all be together again soon.

If you’ve had a spirited relationship with the person who’s dying, acknowledge that you’ve had your ‘ups and downs,’ but reaffirm the power of that love and ask them to forgive any transgression there may have been. Please, do not use this time to be accusatory or stating what your wishes may have been. This time is long past and by your presence and giving of yourself; you are providing the greatest blessing you could ever imagine – for both of you.

One of the greatest gifts you can provide, whether you’re a family member, friend, or professional carer is the gift of touch. Even when words can no longer be spoken, the gift of touch is a potent form of spiritual communication. I often rub the hands or feet of someone who is in transition. There are times when I stroke their hair. These gentle acts are no different than the loving embrace we receive as we come into this world.

And of course, there’s the power of prayer. Never underestimate the strength of that communication. As you offer your supplications, not only does God hear, but the living spiritual being you’re praying for hears as well. Acknowledging that it’s okay to let go, that there is life beyond is a form of blessing. And indeed, you too will be blessed.

Heavenly Father
You have given us so much. Thank You for the gift of life, for all the treasures we received, through the wealth of those who’ve loved us and those whom we’ve loved.
This body You have given is frail and damaged. And now we ask You to grant us peace, as we begin our next journey, to a new life, free of pain and suffering. Ease the sorrow of those we leave behind, knowing that we will always live on in their heart.
Take my hand and lead me now, until that time when we shall meet again, on that day where there is no sunset and no dawn. Amen


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Finding The Right Words of Comfort

What does one say to distraught and grieving parents who have just buried their young child?

. Truthfully there isn’t much we can say that will help. We can express our sorrow and sympathy. We can offer words of care and concern and of course love. We can tell the parents that we shall pray for them. But for most of us the truth is that we don’t know what to say.

I stood a short distance from the family as mourners came to offer their condolences after the burial. And I watched and listened as people so desperately tried to convey their compassion over the tragic loss this young couple have just experienced.

Some fumbled with words then simply broke into tears. Others offered sentiments that some might consider to be inane or even cruel. ‘You’re both young, you’ll have more children,’ one woman offered. The couple were too lost in their grief to even comprehend what the woman had said.

Perhaps it’s because we don’t know what to say that we sometimes say the wrong things. In our distress with another person’s suffering we often feel that we must offer words that will somehow help move the grieving individuals along.

Personally, I feel there is much more of a spiritual connection and sentiment in the power of a silent embrace. No words are necessary to convey sharing the human emotion of pain and sorrow and loss. Especially when we all accept that there are no answers. And so we weep at what has happened. And so too - God weeps with us.

One elderly gentleman suggested that the child’s death was God’s will. I disagree. The God we worship, our God who watches over us, doesn’t will the death of children, or the pain of their parents. Many, many things that happen in this world are not the will of God. That is part of the price of the freedom we have been given by God.

I watched the couple stand in numb silence as an aunt told them that God wanted their son in Heaven with Him. While I am confident God has welcomed him into His kingdom, I am certain God did not want this child to die right now so that He could have him there.

Others continued to offer the same thought; that they were young and they could have more children. This may be true, but other children will never replace this little life. He was his own person. The empty place his death has left in their hearts will never be filled simply because they have another child. Nor should it be. Every child is unique and precious. I realise that people say such things with a desire to comfort the bereaved. They desperately long to find some way to help. May God Bless them for it.

But know that we are faced with a mystery - the mystery of life, and of death, in which there are no easy answers.

And for the grieving parents who may feel that no one will ever understand their pain?...

God understands. He has a son who died also.


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The Book In The Attic

You would have thought I had asthma. I nervously inhaled several times and my pulse quickened as my son rummaged through the attic for me. I have good reason to be nervous when he’s up there. Heaven knows I have good reason! Six months ago I created a new access point to the attic when I fell through the ceiling. Believe me, it wasn’t a pretty sight!

I wanted him to find a book for me. Considering our attic, that’s not far from asking for the proverbial needle in a haystack. Kudos to Willem though, he deftly moved among the rafters and extracted the exact book I wanted from beneath layers of Christmas ornaments, general khazeray and dust.

For anyone under the age of 16 who may be reading this, a ‘book’ is something that people used during the Neolithic Age for learning, or the conveyance of information.

And it was the book I used for writing to my daughter Mary, when she was first born. I’ve written to both my children all their lives. I still do. Poor souls.

The book contains nothing spectacular; it’s just one of many now. And it contains thoughts that I wanted to save for her, or observations I had during different times of her life. Today is Mary’s birthday and I thought it would be nice to see where my thoughts were on the day she was born.

Although the dust critters have done a rather good job on the cover of her first book, the contents still leap out at me as if they had been freshly written.

This child is not my child
She is God’s gift and God’s charge
I may give her my love and share my experiences
But she will mould her own life
with my guidance

For the moment we rejoice in the birth of our children
God has danced with us and we have all joined hands

I shall celebrate, sing, and nurture your soul
for it is the greatest responsibility of my life

Miss Mary, God has danced with you
Always follow in His footsteps
And you will always hear His music

Happy birthday sweetheart. May you continue to hear His music for the rest of your life!


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