Twist of the Collar - Clerical Memoirs by Rev. L. E. A. Ehrmann


[p23] I had found Canon R. Rhodes Bristow a great friend before my ordination, and I knew of his work at S. Stephen's, Lewisham, until he went to Southwark Cathedral as Canon Missioner. I was not happy towards the end of my time at S. Bartholomew's, so I told the Canon that I desired to seek another sphere of work. He gave me excellent advice, and suggested two things (a) a chaplaincy which he knew was vacant and would undoubtedly result in a Living being offered to me, and (b) a senior curacy at S. Laurence. Catford, of which the Rev. F. C. Bainbridge-Bell was Vicar. I was out for work in God's Vineyard, that was the whole purpose of my seeking ordination, so I chose the latter, which pleased the Canon very much.

I started work there with an excellent Vicar who had organised the parish well and all the usual activities were in full swing. During my curacy there I had very genial colleagues—Rev. H. F. Lord, who gave up the curacy for S.P.G. deputation work, he having been many years a Missionary in India. He still resided in Catford and I enjoyed for a long time his friendship, both when he left for Hythe, Kent and later when he became Vicar of Bapchild, near Sittingbourne. He was an ardent visitor, a Churchman of the old type, thoroughly sound doctrinally. Then the Rev. L. P. [p 23] Smith, now Rector of Baldock Herts., has always kept in touch with me, the Rev. C. E. Seccombe, when he left Catford undertook work for the White Cross League and later had a living in Up Ottery. Devon, but died in 1943. The Rev. J. D. W. Burton was another genial colleague and a favourite amongst boys. We always had four on the staff and this was none too many, for the parish had a population of about 20,000.

It will be seen that all available time had to be devoted to visiting, of which I was very fond, and being young I did not mind getting tired. We had a flourishing C.E.M.S. Branch, of which Mr. L. W. Dethier was secretary, and he most successfully secured good speakers on a variety of subjects for the meetings which were well attended and appreciated by the members. All the Branches were linked together in a Lewisham Deanery Federation.

I remember on one occasion—Passion Sunday afternoon—I was conducting the Men's Service in Church and the Rev. H. J. Fynes Clinton was expected to preach, the Vicar holding a Confirmation Preparation Class in the Vicarage. Time went on and no preacher appeared. What was to be done? I ventured to go into the pulpit and gave a little address on Our Lord's Passion, when at the close the preacher appeared. He also gave his address and apologised for being late. After this experience in the ministry it taught me always to be prepared for an address at a moment's notice, so as to obviate the accusation of giving an unprepared sermon.

To enter the pulpit unprepared is not fair to the people, however necessary it may be to fill a gap once in a way. The standard of teaching in the Church must necessarily be high, though the method of delivery should be in simple language. And here, let me make a plea for clear enunciation. It is most irritating to a congregation if the preacher speaks indistinctly and constantly drops his voice." I am thankful that I have always been heard clearly, even at S. Laurence's where the acoustic properties of the Church were unquestionably bad.

While I was at Catford, building of new houses continued rapidly especially on the way to Bromley, and new roads, like Arran, Inchmery and several others, sprung up with nice suburban houses, many of which were occupied with people who had migrated from Deptford, Bermondsey and Rotherhithe.

Mr. Bainbridge-Bell, whenever possible, spent his holiday mountain climbing in Switzerland. I learned from him the wisdom of not rushing matters in regard to ceremonial. Gradually yet firmly he made progress. When I first went there, white linen vestments were in use at the Eucharist, and a Sung Eucharist was just coming on, then twice a month. When I left in 1914, the Sung Eucharist was celebrated weekly with coloured vestments, and there were also frequent celebrations during the week. The cope was also worn in procession. A band of loyal Servers added to the [p 24] dignity of the Eucharists, and incidentally were a great help to the clergy. Let me say here that we assistant clergy could always talk matters over with Mr. Bainbridge-Bell he was always a good friend. There was an excellent choir and everything was well organised.

During this curacy I became acquainted with Canon W. W. Hough, Vicar of S. Mary's, Lewisham, who became afterwards Bishop of Woolwich. He was a keen Temperance advocate, and appointed me Deanery C.E.T.S. secretary, which work I carried out until I left Catford. It was a great pleasure to work with him, and several services. etc., were organised. I had also charge of the Band of Hope at S. Laurence's, which was in a flourishing condition and where I had much valuable help from the assistants.

While I was at Catford a ten days Parochial Mission was held in 1912 of which Canon J. H. Browne was Missioner assisted by his brother, the Rev. 0. Philip Browne; Mr. Bainbridge Bell organised extensive preparations for it months and months before. It may have been somewhat overdone for we heard constantly nothing but "The Mizion" (as the Vicar called it), yet it went off very well.

At the close of it the usual thanksgiving service was held, when Canon Browne handed over the parish to the Vicar again and he (the Vicar) then said "Let us now give thanks to God and say together the General Confession," meaning, of course, the Thanksgiving. He was a dear, good man, and we were all very fond of him, though some of his parishioners regarded him as severe. It needed only to know him well to see his sincerity and tender-heartedness and other good qualities. But his pronunciation was not always A1, e.g., the versicle at Matins and Evensong "Give peace in our time, O Lord," always sounded like "Give peas in our time." This brings to my recollection a vicar in Kennington. London, who was reported to say in the first world war "O Lord, shave the King." I remember travelling with Canon Hough and Mr. Bainbridge-Bell to Winchester for the enthronement of Bishop Talbot, whom we all loved and regretted to lose in Southwark.

Much more could be written about Catford, but space will not permit. At length, through the good offices of Canon Rough, the time for leaving this curacy was at hand, and Bishop Hubert Murray Burge, of Southwark, offered me the parish of Abbey Wood.

I must just add that I continued to act as King's College Theological Society's Secretary for the Diocese, which involved considerable work in the way of sending notices of meetings to the large numbers of members and collecting their subscriptions. Yet, from my business training, I had no difficulty whatever in such matters. I had equipped myself with a Cyclostyle and would "run off" 100 copies of a circular letter without any difficulty. Bishop Burge was a good friend to our Society, for he invited us to Bishops [p 25] House, Kennington, on the occasion of the Rev. S. C. E. Legg. Chaplain of King's College. London, giving a lecture on "Recent Criticism on the Origin of the First Three Gospels." This took place on 27th November, 1911, and we published this interesting lecture in the following February with a "Foreword" by the Bishop. In it Dr. Burge wrote the following :-

"Mr. Legg modestly and properly told us he had nothing new to say. I doubt whether this is the moment for aiming at saying something new about the Origin of the First Three Gospels— plain men like ourselves — or, for the matter of that, the specialists and experts themselves - need to gather together the important points of agreement and the points of vital disagreement from the somewhat bewildering mass of contributions made in recent years to the solution of the problem. There comes a moment always in the discussion of origins when speculation becomes romantic: that moment is reached when there is really no new material to go upon: it looks to me as if we have arrived at this stage, at any rate, at this juncture."

When I left Catford the kind friends gave me several Theological Works, an Altar Desk, a Missal (inscribed by the two Wardens Messrs. W. T. Colyer and A. Cutler) and the names printed (and in a frame) of the donors, which was greatly valued by me.

As I write these memoirs, Miss Dorothy Cutler, the daughter, is now headmistress of the Kent County School for Girls, a post which she holds with great efficiency.

In the early years of my priesthood I became acquainted with the Rev. G. H. Tremenheere. Vicar of S. Agatha's, Landport; he was an extremely kind friend and I took duty there on more than one occasion. I felt it a great privilege to be able to minister in that celebrated Church.

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