Thought for the week: Reverend Paul Lanham

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Had he lived my father would be 106 next Wednesday. Like me he was a priest only much more popular; when he died in 1994 even the policeman directing the traffic outside the church attended the funeral and someone else paid the funeral director’s bill before my mother went to do so.

I grew up in a country rectory in Gloucestershire. Endlessly cycling in the lanes, coming in from the fields plastered with mud. Then there was the fun we had with my father. There was the time when he found a wasps nest in a ditch outside the front door and hit it with a spade rather than using more subtle means to get rid of it. I don’t know what harm it did to them but they certainly did him a mischief. There were the model trains. My brother would go to bed only to find next morning that they had all collided and were in a mess. Above all there was the time when he had the idea of leaping out from behind a door to startle me; it wasn’t a good one because he was 5 ft 10, the door was 6 ft 6 and he jumped a foot into the air. He was unconscious before he hit the ground. My long suffering mother thought he was showing off since she had her back to him and only heard the crash.

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The point of this? It’s very easy to think of religion as restrictive, taking all the fun out of life. You can’t do this, you mustn’t do that. You’re a sinner, you must be good, you must never ever utter a bad word (someone once asked me whether I ever swore and I said that she had never seen me driving on the M25). Clergy children must be paragons of perfection, sweet little things perfectly behaved. Christianity is not like this, or if it is then it shouldn’t be. It gives life meaning, that extra perspective that it would otherwise lack. It makes sense of death and that makes sense of life through the Resurrection of Christ. So as I look back to that gentle, sincere but mischievous father, perhaps he showed me even more than the fact that the clergy are human. He showed me that life with faith can be fun. And by not believing in God you are missing out as far as real life is concerned.

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