Oral History

Canon Brian Davis

St Mary’s Church and before with Canon Brian Davis

Interviewers: Mr. D. J. Wood (DW)

Interviewed: Mr Brian Davis (BD)

Date of Interview: 28th April 2004

BD. So, this is Brian Davis, Canon Brian Davis the Vicar of St Mary’s Hinckley and today’s date is Wednesday 28th April 2004.

DW. Can I have your age please?

BD. I was born November 29th 1940 so that makes me sixty-three.

DW. Can we first start when you first left college and came into the ministry?

BD. Mmm really, it goes back, if I am going to talk about how I became a vicar. My calling actually did start right back to when I was quite a youngster. I went to Oakham School as a day boy when, if you passed your eleven plus in Rutland, you went to Oakham School, which was called in those days a Direct Grant School so it was a Grammar School, one third of it, and two thirds was a Public School, a private School.

My nickname at school believe it or not, was Vic as, err I must have had something about me as a sort of rather Holy Joe in those days. I can remember being appalled by the behaviour of the Chaplain and I’d be about twelve at the time, actually going to see the Chaplin who was quite disgraceful in his behaviour, in the way he used to knock kids about and so on. Then most of the masters did, and the Prefects, it was quite a brutal school when I was there. I went to see the Chaplain and told him that I thought his behaviour was unchristian. I can remember, I can remember seeing the blood drain from his face, he had never had anybody stand up to him like that, and as I was a dayboy he daren’t have a go at me because I would be going home to mother in the evening. So I think my, my calling goes right back but circumstances didn’t work out as perhaps we planned. They never do, do they, or rarely do. So when I left school err, I eventually went to a Teachers Training College at King Alfred’s Winchester and I was there for three years. I have recently been back to, that is last year ‘Forty Years On’ meeting my fellow students from forty years ago.

I think the most dramatic and the most important year of my life was my first year of teaching, err, which was in 1963, 63 / 64 because I was thrown into the deep end at a school called Great Casterton near Stamford, eventually I took over the music. But it was that first year I was actually mostly teaching English because I am more qualified to teach English, English Literature and so on English Language. I found it very difficult, and that year made me rethink a whole lot of things. It affected my faith and I seriously began to think about ordination. In my third year, I did three years teaching at Great Casterton, in my third year, I went to see the Bishop. I saw the Bishop of Peterborough who, I was in that dioceses. My home being in Rutland, in Belton in Rutland as it is called now, Belton near Uppingham. I felt it was in teaching that I felt the call. I thought, I realised that so many of the children I taught, It was a secondary school, were such a long, long way away from the church and faith and so on from any organized religion, and I wanted to err to reach out to them and help them. I also realize how ignorant I was about the bible about the church and so on. So to cut a long story short I was accepted for training for the ministry. I remember when the news got out; around the school it was in the local paper, I didn’t put it in. I don’t know who put it in, but any way “Brian Davis a teacher at Great Casterton is to train for the ministry and become a vicar” and this lad rushed into my classroom one morning and said “What you Sir a vicar, ah”. I always remember that as a umm, because I was not thought to be the sort of person that would normally become a vicar. I went to Kings College London and err I did four years altogether, finishing off my last year at St Augustines at Canterbury, which is part of Kings College London and was ordained in Leicester Cathedral in May 1970.

DW. Were was your first church?

BD. Well in the Church of England you start off as a Curate so I was Curate at St Mary’s Humberstone in Leicester. A Curate to a wonderful man who was Dr Geoffrey Cuming who was an academic, one of the cleverest man in the church a liturgists who was helping to rewrite the services of the Church of England. So it was great to be with him, he in fact as I went to as his Curate he began lecturing at my old college in London so it was a nice link to the King’s College London. He would come back with messages from the Dean and so on, checking up on me. I had, and I had two and a half years, very happy years as the Curate there. I think the Vicar was rather shy and retiring sort of person quite a lot of people in the village, not used to seeing a Vicar around the place, a dog collar around the place they saw me, and actually lots of people thought I was the new Vicar. [Laughter] I had a really happy time, was given a lot of freedom to develop the ministry, and started a family service, and started a pram club for mums and toddlers in the weekday and lots of things. Did a lot of youth work and children’s work, and had a great time. Then I did a second Curacy for a short time at St Andrew’s, Leicester Forrest East, where I was in charge of the daughter church there St Andrew’s, as part of the Parish of Kirby Muxloe, umm then I became the Vicar. In 1974, I became the Vicar of St Andrew’s Countesthorpe.

DW. How long did you stay there?

BD. Well I was there for, in all seventeen years, which is quite a long time for a Vicar to stay in a parish these days. Years ago it was not uncommon, people once they got to a parish they would be there for the rest of they lives, literally because they did not retire, but we are going back a long time. In the last thirty, forty years it’s a lot more common for Vicars to spend ten years at the most probably less than that in a parish and then move on. We are very fortunate at the Church of England. We can choose to stay or to move on, and there are lots of ways of moving on, I was actually offered a number of parish’s but I wanted to stay partly it was the family, my own family there were problems. I got married there and we had two children there. Our second child, a son was quite poorly from the word go and we nearly lost him, several times. He had umm, heart problems he had a hole in the heart. He had two major operations when he was little, and it never seemed to be the right time to move. I always found excuses to stay on another year and things were developing all the time I like to think so any way. I think my philosophy which I developed at Countesthorpe was, if I could put it in a nut shell as to what I believe the church is, it is about building community, a community within the community if you like. The church is nothing if it is not the community of people loving and caring for one another and expressing their faith in God and their love for God in their love for one another. Not an exclusive sort of love, but a love that reaches out to involve the community and to help them serve the community. One of the things we did at Countesthorpe we actually took over the old school, the old Primary School when it became vacant we bought it and we developed it as a community centre. Then we had a hall which was the original village school right in the centre of the village which in a way was superfluous to requirements and we turned it in to a charity shop Countesthorpe didn’t have a charity shop at all, not like Hinckley with lots of them. So we opened this charity shop, open three days a week and it was also a sort of drop in so there was facilities for coffee. It was quite an important community facility and all the profits, and it took the people of Countesthorpe time to really grasp that we meant it all the profits were given to help the people of the third world, they all went to Christian Aid and we raised a lot of money. The Rainbow shop as we called it still continues not in the same place a bit reduced to what it was.

DW. Where did you go when you left Countesthorpe?

BD. Well I was a Rural Dean by the time I left, a Rural Dean is a sort of umm person helping the Bishop to look after areas of the diocese known as deaneries. I was one of thirteen rural Deans helping to run that area. The Blaby Area yes Blaby Narborough area of Leicestershire called Guthlaxton one, and as a Rural Dean I heard quite a bit about St Mary’s Hinckley, which was err quite renowned as a church that had seen better days which was rather sad. The incumbent, here was an elderly gentleman who refused to retire and things had got into rather a bad way and umm, I heard about this because the Rural Dean of this Deanery, the Hinckley and Bosworth Deanery, called Sparkenhoe West. These are the names for the old hundreds going back a thousand years, we are the only Diocese in the Church of England to retain these names, I might say, which is a questionable sort of distinction. Anyway, I heard about St Mary’s Hinckley and in fact, it was renowned in the Diocese as rather a sad parish. So when it became vacant, I went to see the Archdeacon, Hughie Jones and said, well I did wonder really whether it really was time to move after seventeen years to move from Countesthorpe. I wondered really whether perhaps St Mary’s Hinckley might be a sort of challenge to take on and he said “He had also thought that” and err and so after some interviews and so on, going through the due processes. I was appointed to St Mary’s Hinckley and was inducted here by Bishop Tom Butler who is now the Bishop of Southwark he came to the Diocese the same time as I came to Hinckley, and that was October 1st 1991.

DW. Your way, of delivering, (if that is the word) the service is entirely different from other Church of England Ministers I’ve met and their service. Would you tell me how that developed?

I think it goes right back to my teaching days. I think, I have been aware that its no good people getting into a pulpit and speaking as if, you know, as if things had not changed and they can just preach as people preached fifty, hundred years ago and the people there in the pews sit and have to listen to the Vicar. I have actually got a wonderful Hogarth print, I know that is going back right to the eighteen century called “The Sleeping Congregation” and the Vicar is in the pulpit err he is reading, you can even see his text. “Come to me all who labour, and are heavy leaden I will give you rest” and the whole congregation is fast a-sleep and he is just droning on, and, as a teacher I realise you have to engage people. Err you can do this in all sorts of ways, but you’ve go to be prepared to change and to be innovative not just in the preaching but in the whole service and I’ve been one whose believed in bringing the services up to date and making them relevant to people. Umm, and therefore the sermons, I think that good humour is a wonderful thing and its good to be able to share a joke or to be able to laugh, it does not have to be a joke. It can just be something funny, a funny experience, and to be able to laugh together is a wonderful liberating thing. Also in recent years we have developed dialogue sermons when you actually engage the congregation in a dialogue so will ask questions. May be with the use of the overhead projector you start putting up ideas that come from the congregation.

Then the Bishop came I asked him if he would play along with this, and asked him to preach for ten minutes this was in November last year and he did, he preached for ten minutes an excellent short sermon, then he took questions. We have a radio microphone, and went round the congregation and people asked questions. It makes it livelier, people don’t want to just sit, umm and just be pew fodder. They want to be involved. The thing must be meaningful. If the worship is not meaningful, and it does not have to be happy-clappy it does not necessary have to be, but its got to be something they are involved with. What we have developed here errm it begin about six or seven years ago, I looked at my main congregation on a Sunday morning and realised that they like myself were getting older and the number of young families were not increasing. In fact we were stuck with about five or six committed young families, err and a small Sunday school we were struggling, and after much thought and prayer and heart searching, we actually started a new service for young families. It went right against the grain of everything I, I sort of believed in, in the past because at Countesthorpe we had one morning service. We had quite a big congregation bigger still then I’ve managed to get here. We had a large congregation of all ages and I thought that was ideal, but it just didn’t seem to be working here. May be you know, times have changed, things are changing all the time, and to meet young families where they are, realised at to do something special for them so we have and its grown and it is now our largest service. Lots of young parents, young families, sometimes grandmas and granddads come along as well. It’s a very lively three quarters on an hour service, half past nine and its every Sunday. Then the quieter service follows almost immediately afterwards, so it’s rather an hectic morning but it seems to be working and our numbers have increased considerably.

DW. One thing you have quite a reputation for is your jokes.

BD. Yes

DW. Where do you get them from?

BD. Ahhh if you look up on the shelf just above my head you will there is quite a row of joke books and so on and people pass me joke books. Umm but the trouble is most of the jokes in them are old ones and I have already got them. If I can find one or two new ones, so I am often looking out for jokes, umm and err, Yes I think it is important to be able to introduce humour as I have said. It doesn’t always have to be a joke. I went to preach a Melton Mowbray Church the Sunday before last, for the start of a funding campaign and err umm and I had took a few jokes with me and err. I think sometimes the problem is if you go to a church that is not used to having jokes the first joke tends to fall a bit flat; because people are surprised, they don’t know if they are allowed to laugh [laughing saying the last 10 words]

DW. I have been speaking to one or two people who attend your church and one particular joke you use a number of times, it actually coincided with something that happen to you personally when you lost your bike.

BD. Yes, Yes quite

DW. The joke about the ten commandments and your bike

BD. [laughing] Yes I know [laughing]

DW. Would you like to tell, us about it?

BD. I’ll tell you the thing is, I did have my bike stolen last year, but it as returned very soon. It was a very old bike, it's a Rayleigh it was, it was made in the fifties, so it is quite a collector's item, and because it's an old bike and I didn’t think anybody would want to steal it, but it was stolen about a month ago. I was visiting our little hospital in Mount Road and when I came out the bike had gone. They put a piece in the Hinckley Times, which everybody reads in Hinckley and err and I had lots of offers of a new bike and commiserations from everybody. It seemed to have touched a nerve in the community that the vicars bike had been stolen. When I told the Methodist Minister about it he said “ Do you know the joke” and I used the joke at a service subsequently. He said “You know the joke about the Vicar and the Curate, the Curate’s bike was stolen, or at least it had disappeared. The Vicar said to him ‘Well it as probably been stolen’ he said ‘now tomorrow morning in church we shall be having the Ten Commandments. I will read the Commandments and I will read them particularly slowly and when we get to ‘Thou shall not steal’ I’ll pause, and you can have a look around the congregation and see if anybody looks guilty, that could be the person who stole your bike. So after the service the Vicar said to the Curate “Did you have a look. Did you see anybody looking guilty when I said ‘Thou shall not steal’” and the Curate said “No, No” he said because umm earlier on when you got to ‘Thou shall not commit adultery; I remembered where I left my bike.’ [Laughter] So I yes well it is quite difficult sometimes to find the right joke umm and you want, you don’t, it’s a bit sort of cheap to bring, to drag in any sort of joke that is got nothing what so ever. I’ve got several sort of jokes that I tell at weddings, which I mean, the trouble is the choir have heard them hundreds of times and they just switch off. Which is you know, they don’t even bother to groan now umm but I always say while people laugh as they do. For instance I said “The bridegroom as so nervous he could not even make the pen write when he came to sign the registers. So the vicar lent across and said put your weight on it man, put your weight on it, so he carefully wrote ten stone six pounds” [laughter] and people still laugh at that joke even though I have been telling it for the past twenty years. It puts people at their ease, but I tried to find a joke, I did the umm, I did the wedding of a referee umm and at the last interview with the couple the bridegroom, this referee said he “he had just been promoted to Premier League”. He was really very chuffed about this and he said umm “would you mind, I don’t mind Vicar if you mention this at the wedding.” I think he was perhaps even more proud of the fact that he had been promoted to Premier League as a ref, than getting married. Anyway, umm I though I’d err see if I could find an appropriate joke and I found this lovely joke “ St Peter up in heaven was constantly being challenged by the devil to a game of football, and St Peter would say no, no, go away we are not going to play football with you. Until one day St Peter thought well, we have got some good footballers up here. So he said to the devil alright we will give you a game, and the devil laughed, and said “you’ll lose, you’ll lose”, and St Peter said “why are you so sure we’ll lose” and the devil said “ because we’ve got all the Refs down here” [laughter]

DW. You were Vicar to or Pastor to quite a number of Mayors over the years, and took part in quite a lot of Council Meetings. Is there anything that springs to mind, with your services to the Council?

BD. Well I must say when I came to Hinckley, one of the things that impressed me right away. One of the first people to contact me, and I had hardly settled into the vicarage, was the Mayor at the time which was David Bill. David contacted me and said look, he was full of apology, but he was not able, he and his wife were not able come to the induction. They’d already got another engagement and they were full of apologies, but they would love to come round and see me, and to meet me and perhaps to offer help in any way. It was though meeting David, and having a coffee, I remember sitting out in the garden and having a cup of coffee with David and his wife Val that we hatched up the idea of a May Festival. I came in the October and the church was very run down as I’ve said and we needed to get things up and running and I wanted to reopen the church, make it a church in the community it is right in the centre of Hinckley. It is a wonderful building. It’s a very large building, far too large for the congregation even if the congregation was to double in size, still a very large building, and I had to raise a lot of money to renovate and restore the building so I thought let's use it but err we needed to spend some time in planning for that so we had a sort of grand reopening of the building as a seven day a week church and David Bill and Val were part of that and helped to plan. In fact we had a whole month of activities in May 1992 and I must say right from the word go I’ve had a really good relationship with the Council.

I have made it a point, I did not want to be to identified with one political party and I am proud to say I have got on with all three main parties. Had good relationships with them and umm in contrast to my time at Countesthorpe were I did seem to get on the wrong side of the Parish Council on a number of occasions. But here its gone well and I have enjoyed that, I have enjoyed that contact, the Council Offices are actually built on former church land the whole of the area next to the vicarage where we are sitting all belonged to the church all the land and was sold off when this vicarage was built in the 1950s. The new Council Offices were built there and so umm I have enjoyed my involvement and its err I hope to think that I have contributed something by being around and by building friendships. It has to do with friendships most of the time, gaining the trust of people and talking to people and on occasions I have got involved in various activities in the Council and though the Council.

DW. Thank you Brian

Transcript by: Jean & David Wood.