A dear friend has just arrived from Scotland, and reminded me last night that we are just two weeks apart in age, and that we met in 1972 when I became Rector of St Michael & All Saints in the city of Edinburgh. She was a recent widow, with three young children, and I saw them all grow up and even visited them when they lived in Johannesburg in South Africa.
I love new friends, but there is something special about friends you have known for a long time and with whom you have shared so many experiences. And looking back, I find I have friends with whom I am still in touch, from every place I have lived.
I met my oldest friend in 1953, when we transferred from different primary schools to Galashiels Academy, in the Scottish Border Country. We were the only two called Gordon in our entry classes and we both sang in the local Episcopal Church choir, which at that time had about 20 boys (how times have changed). Now, 60 years on, we are both in the U.S.A., me full time in Philadelphia, and Gordon six months every year in Palm Springs, CA, and the other six in London.
When I went to Edinburgh University, Gordon went to join the civil service in the Scottish Office in London. I became a member of Old St Paul’s Church in Edinburgh, and have several friends dating from these days, including one who is now a retired priest in San Antonio, Texas.
Then on I went to Oxford, and from my years there, both at Keble and Cuddesdon, I have many friends, including a few Bishops of the Church of England, one of whom is on the (long) short list to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury. Another, who has recently died, ended up as one of the Deans of the Antiochian Orthodox Church in California. No, not all my friends have come to America, but quite a few have. One who did not , returned to his home country, South Africa, and he and his wife now live in retirement in Mossel Bay, that lovely town half-way up the Garden Route on the Indian Ocean.
My first Curacy, at St Salvador’s Church, Edinburgh, has left me fewer friends, though I still exchange Christmas cards with some, and I visited one of them recently who lives in some splendor in a fantastic country house in Perthshire, one of the loveliest counties in Scotland.
But then in Salisbury, I taught and was chaplain to about 150 seminarians for three years. Almost all of them were ordained priest, and I still see some of them quite regularly. Even there, there is an American connection: one of my colleagues on the faculty became a distinguished professor in the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee.
My present visitor, as I said, is a friend who was a parishioner during my twelve years as a Rector of a parish in Edinburgh, and she is just one of many whom I still see regularly on my visits back to that lovely city.
This is true also of friends from Inverness. I was preaching in my old Cathedral there a few years ago, and was astonished to see how unchanged the congregation looked. Of course there were some new faces and, sadly, some had been removed by death, but on the whole it was almost as it had been 25 years ago! So there was much catching up to do at the reception afterwards.
And then, we are getting too close to my 16 years in the Diocese in Europe for it to be remarkable that I still see so many of them. We have about 300 churches and chaplaincies scattered all over the continent, and I must have visited three-quarters of them as Vicar General and Archdeacon. So the friends are too many to count – thanks be to God!