The making of a man
In the summer of 1959 careers advice consisted of a two minute meeting in our teacher’s broom cupboard sized office.
The conversation lacked enthusiasm on either part but we pushed on regardless.
“Have you got a job?” asked the teacher. “No,” came my reply.
“Well are you looking for work?” he barked. “Yes,” I nodded.
“That’s good. Do you want any advice?” he offered.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “Well off you go then,” the teacher chimed.
In terms of a career, I believed that God was calling me to be a minister. Despite my enthusiasm though, not everyone was convinced by this plan.
When I was 17 our local minister told me to reconsider my dream and at 23, I was turned down for ministerial training.
I was forced to take a different path into another career, but it was a path that was consistently entwined with my undying ambition to serve God as a priest.
When I look back at how it all started for me, I can’t help but compare my apprenticeship as a teenager with my experiences decades later as a ministry trainee.
I believe these key periods in my life were the making of me.
To find a regular job in 1959 was easy. Unemployment was low and the papers were full of vacancies.
I’d decided on seeking an engineering apprenticeship but finding one of these wasn’t quite as easy as I thought.
During an interview at a local machine tool company, I was told that the sons of existing engineers got the pick of the apprenticeships. There wouldn’t therefore be any places left for me.
Despite this set back, I did later get an apprenticeship in the tool room at a spring manufacturers, a feat achieved by playing my trump card.
I offered my school report for the inspection of the managing director who refused to look at it by saying; “If it wasn’t any good you would not have brought it.’
My experience many years later in applying to train for ordination to the Church of England could not have differed more.
Since I was being considered for locally ordained ministry the five churches of the parish had to approve all new applicants, so it took a whole three years before I was accepted.
Once this hurdle was over, interviews took place with the director of local ordained ministry, the bishop and a local selection panel.
This was followed by a three day national selection conference at which, thank goodness, I was recommended for training.
I can remember my first day as a tool maker apprentice very well. I arrived in my brand new boiler suit with my wrapped sandwiches in hand and was introduced to the head apprentice.
He promptly led me to my first machine, a shaper, which cut metal with a simple reciprocating cutting stroke. It was to be the first of many machines that I was required to master during my time there.
As an ordinand decades later, I may have been older and wiser but I was just as nervous on the first day of my course.
I remember arriving for my studies in the undercroft of the cathedral alongside six other ordinands when we were all greeted by our tutor.
She briefly explained details of what we’d be studying over the next three years and then asked us to prepare a short review of a religious book of our choice.
Somehow I managed to fall at the first hurdle by misinterpreting the task and reviewing a secular text instead. That certainly taught me to listen in future.
In the first year of my apprenticeship I was in charge of fetching tea for the whole team and also purchasing fish and chips every Friday.
Being the new kid on the block also meant that I was cannon fodder for practical jokes and fell for most of them hook, line and sinker.
Firstly, I was sent to the stores for a ‘long stand’ by one of the skilled men. Here I was then told to wait for someone to bring the stand out.
Nobody ever brought this mysterious long stand to me and I was furious with myself that I’d fallen for their trick. A long stand simply meant you were left waiting forever.
On another occasion I was sent to the boiler house for a bucket of steam. The boiler man would fill your bucket with steam but of course it had all evaporated by the time you got back to the tool room.
I was sent again and again to refill the bucket and also for other mythical items such as a spirit level bubble, a rubber hammer and sky hooks.
I hated falling for these pranks myself but it was very amusing when the new apprentices did the same.
Adapting to the Parish
Although I had many years experience as a Methodist local preacher and then a reader in the C of E, this did not quite prepare me for the first year as an ordinand in parish ministry.
As an ordinand in training you were expected to take reference from your incumbent, but at the same time to use your initiative. This was not an easy balance to strike.
You were also expected to be aware of the traditions of the individual churches.
I remember reading the gospel in the centre of the congregation one afternoon when a church warden suddenly piped up, saying that he did not want to hear any of this ‘popish’ stuff in his church.
This approach had been welcomed and enjoyed by one church earlier that Sunday so I was taken aback by the second church’s disapproval.
Pastoral care was another learning curve. I was asked by a warden to visit a parishioner in hospital, which I accepted enthusiastically.
When I arrived at their bedside I found my incumbent asleep in the chair beside the snoring parishioner but I waited patiently for them both to arise.
When the parishioner did awake, the appearance of us both sitting there beside him led him to believe he was at death’s door. My incumbent was not best pleased.
A skilled man
Once your apprenticeship was complete, you were then expected to look elsewhere for a job. This was a blessing because at your new firm you were treated as a skilled man rather than an ex-apprentice.
Fortunately for me one of my former managers had gone to another company and he took me on for a top rate of seven shillings and nine pence per hour.
So on that first day as a skilled man I walked triumphantly into the tool room of my new company with my head held high.
My studies as an ordinand ended with a silent retreat, which was a great challenge in itself as I am a renowned chatterbox.
During the retreat I was told by my bishop that I had passed the training and would be ordained.
The frustration for me was that I wasn’t able to shout out with joy or even share my news with another soul but I made up for this when I returned home.
The day of the ordination arrived. It was a splendid occasion, which I was able to share with my family, friends and parishioners.
And when the bishop laid his hands on me I thought of my dear mum in heaven. She had of course given me the name Priestly, as if she had envisioned this very day.
I smiled to myself and thought, “we have done it mum!” And I could hear her say, “well, it’s taken you long enough!” In fact it was nearly fifty years from my first calling.
God may love those who try but I must have tried God’s patience most of my life. Yet here at the age of 65, I had finally fulfilled my greatest ambition.
Celebrations followed and that Sunday I confidently preached for the first time as the Reverend Priestly Brook believing that the hearers hung onto my every word. What followed? Well that’s a story for another day.
The Reverend Priestly Brook, an Anglican priest, retired in August 2012 from the Colne and Villages Team Ministry in East Lancashire. His bishop has granted him a licence with ‘Permission to Officiate’. He is married to Christine, with six grown up children. He is a well known preacher and after dinner speaker in the North of England.