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Calderdale Methodist Circuit : Clifford Lees Reminisces (Part 1)

Heptonstall church

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THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PULPIT

Part 1

Reminiscences of Clifford Lees from his 60 years as a local preacher

Photo of Clifford

Deflation

They didn’t let you hang around in 1949. Today potential new local preachers can expect to be “On Note” for anything up to a year. I spent one quarter in that tentative position.

One Sunday evening I went with Mr Robertshaw the elder (to distinguish him from Edwin Robertshaw, some will still remember) to Southowram Church Lane, almost opposite St Anne’s Church. I was to take the service from the beginning to after the Old Testament lesson. The big hurdle in this was the first prayer. Here was something to wrestle with: prayers in Methodist worship were over 90% extempore. I realised, or was told, that I could write out a prayer and read it aloud, but here I recognised a trap: read your first public prayer and you will find it very hard to attempt extempore prayer, possibly for years. We, being Methodists, would scorn to use a book of prayers, and anyway I could not afford one. So I decided, no matter how frightening it might be, I was going to attempt an extempore prayer; so I did. I shudder to think what it was like, but it freed me from the tyranny of a book of prayers. I use prayer books regularly nowadays – there were not many available in 1949 – but the majority of my public prayers are extempore: particularly important I think for prayers of intercession.

I noticed a peculiarity of extreme nervousness in my reading: I would add a redundant “h” in front of a word such as “aspire”. I need not have worried; Mr Robertshaw (the elder) left them all off. I still recall his punch line: “It comes from the ‘eart”.

A week or two later I accompanied John Pratt (Eric Pratt’s father) to an evening service at Stafford Square (where St Andrew’s is now). Here I was required to take everything, starting from the collection, through the New Testament reading and the “long” prayer (yes I tried it again) up to the hymn before the sermon. Before John launched into his sermon, he said something about looking forward to my being able to take the service. This was greeted with a loud “Hear hear” from a member of the congregation. This intervention lifted my spirits (they needed lifting) but it was not de rigueur, he should have called out “Amen”.

On a few weeks and I waited for instructions from Edwin Robertshaw. I knew the appointment was at Skircoat Lower (Copley) – the building is now a Seventh Day Adventist Church – because I was an asterisk on the plan. The wait was terminated by a surprising letter: “I shall expect you to take all the service, but I shall be in the congregation”. So that was “On Note”, a small part of one service, a larger part of the next and the whole of the service at number 3.

I still have the notes of the service; they are not impressive but somehow I got through without Edwin having to come from his pew to rescue me – something I had to do perhaps about 10 years later when I was trying to coach a new “On Note”.

I proceeded to the rear of the church, trembling with relief and thinking it had not been so bad and maybe my sermon would have been of some use. The first person to come into the vestibule to shake my hand was a young lady I had never seen before, perhaps rather younger than me. Her first words were “Was that your first sermon?”. Ouch ! That was Joyce Pearson (now Ambler) and she was a few weeks in front of me. It was a valuable comment though.

Embarrassing Moment

There was quite a fog in the Calder Valley and I had to preach at Skircoat Wesley at 10.30 am. I would catch the 43 bus at Church St, alight at the top of Salterhebble Hill and walk up Godfrey Road to the Church. Nearly two years on from going “On Trial”, I had the routines for transport. But the fog was thick; the bus was late. And by the time I got off, I was already well beyond the starting time. But I could still run. I crept down the passage at the rear of the church, entered the vestry, mopped the sweat off my face, combed my hair, got some of my breath back and entered the church. I could hear John Pratt leading the worship. Good!. He was a society steward so he was filling in for me. There were two aisles one at each side of the church. I walked as confidently as possible to the front with the “eyes of all in the temple” on me and ascended into the pulpit. A hymn was being sung. John looked at me in amazement. Then he said “You’re here tonight”. Well, 6.30 scribbled into my diary could easily be mistaken for 10.30. John read the notices till he came to the preacher for tonight. I whispered that it was all right, I would come again for 6.30. I noticed they didn’t have a tenor in the choir so I brashly entered the choir stalls to fill the gap. Another lesson: re-check the church, date and time on the plan.

It can be disconcerting if two of you turn up at one church, even if you are right. I was sitting comfortably in the vestry at Church Lane, by now accustomed to the church and the stewards. Suddenly the door opened “------------” I cannot remember his name and he has been dead many years now, but he carried an old music case which he slung onto the table. Seeing me he said with a super- confident voice: “Hello, have you come to the wrong place?” Now, even if you have checked everything, if someone comes in like that a sudden sinking feeling hits your stomach. We looked on the plan – it was always pinned on the vestry wall. He was at Southowram Wesley, so he fled out up the road to the “Wesleyans” and I settled down, I confess, feeling fairly smug.

A Full Day in Ba’l’ick

Rev Leslie Pacey had moved from Elland to Barnoldswick. He colluded with Rev Alf Lawson, still in Elland, to arrange a pulpit exchange. Alf, “Mack” Wragg and I set off early in my Mini Minor and I drove over Widdop Moor to the Methodist Church in the centre of “Ba’r’lick” where Alf was to preach. A very large poster announced a whist drive and as we dismounted I remember the following conversation:
Alf: You shouldn’t play whist
Mack: Why not?
Alf: It’s unscriptural.
Mack: How do you make that out?
Alf: “Wist ye not “ (Luke 2 v49 AV)

I had to find chapels 2 and 3, deposit Mack at 2 and proceed to 3 where I preached. Afterwards, I lunched with a typical middle-aged couple. They did me proud: Yorkshire Pudding (rectangular), roast beef, etc. There was not a lot of time to let lunch settle; my host guided me to chapel 4 (an afternoon service) where he left me. I did not have to preach, the object of this visit was to transfer me to host number 2 who worshipped at chapel number 4. It was 2.15, time to start, but there was some consternation – the organist had not appeared. The steward asked me “Can you play the organ?”. “No” I replied, “That was not one of my accomplishments”. Eventually a panting red-faced organist arrived: “One of my heifers had got out and I have been chasing her all over” – Barnoldswick Circuit was rural you see.

It goes a bit blurred at this point. I am sure I had to collect one of the others – Alf and Mack – and transfer him to another church. By this time I knew a particular roundabout like an old friend, round and round I went. Perhaps they should have put a new chapel on it. Eventually host number 2 was picked up – his wife had gone on before, but he suggested we should go for a walk. It was a fine day; I remember the white sails of dinghies on a lake and the walk did me good. I noticed he was reluctant to make haste. As we finally approached the open door I guessed at the truth – it was indeed Yorkshire Pudding (rectangular), roast beef etc. Lunch about noon; tea or dinner about 4.30 pm.

The Circuit was still in full swing. I then had to find Chapel Number 5, a “modernisation” (partial) of an old Sunday School in Earby. Here I delivered myself a second time – not easy holding down the layers of pudding, roast, pudding and roast. After that it was plain sailing: round the roundabout, pick up the crew and cruise over the moors from Colne to Hebden Bridge and eventually to Elland about 9.30 pm I think. I wonder how the Rev Leslie and his lot got on in the Elland area? For myself I would call it a full day.

Continue with Part 2.

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