The Coolest Chaplain

Feb 10th, 2018

‘You’re a disgrace to humanity!’

That’s what the chaplain at Winchester Prison said to Bert Brocklesby, conscientious objector and protagonist of my play ‘This Evil Thing’, a hundred years ago. Another CO was told by a different chaplain, ‘Christ would have spat in your face!’

In France, there was a chaplain who came to comfort some COs who were in punishment barracks awaiting their sentences for having persistently but politely refused to obey orders.

When this chaplain learned that one of the men he’d come to comfort was a Methodist, his response was, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t talk to you, I’m Church of England.’ He moved on to the next man, who told the chaplain he was a Congregationalist. Again the chaplain demurred, saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m Church of England.’

‘We all worship the same God, you know!’ the COs cried out, as the chaplain scurried away.

In complete contrast, the current-day chaplain at Reading University is one of the nicest and one of the coolest clergy I’ve ever met. Long hair flowing down beneath his shoulders, cycle clips and a cycle helmet, and a healthily robust attitude to those at the Uni who had dithered and wavered about hosting my play.

Reverend Laynesmith, for that is the coolest chaplain’s name, had seen me perform it in the huge tent at Greenbelt Festival last August. He was determined to bring it to Reading University where he is based – and finally, in the guise of his Annual Chaplaincy Lecture he managed to pull this off.

February 7th was the date set, and after a month spent mostly in bed, coughing, spluttering and fighting off flu (for me January wasn’t ‘Veganuary’ but ‘Germanuary’) I was back on the road again – a mini-tour of ten performances throughout February. So I arrived at Reading Uni last week, greeted by heaps of friendly helpers and volunteers, a ‘House Full’ sign (quite right, seeing as admission on this occasion was free!) and feeling great to be doing the play again after a two month gap.

The Q and A was facilitated by the Vice Chancellor of the Uni, Sir David Bell, a delightful man who set the ball-rolling with some excellent questions (first time I believe I’ve been quizzed by a Knight of the realm).

The phrase that kept coming up about the play was ‘thought-provoking’ – that has certainly been one of my main motivations with this piece – to provoke serious thought and debate. Afterwards, an army – sorry, inappropriate word – a flock of volunteers helped me pack up and soon I was trundling back to London in my white van. In bed by 12.45am, tired but very satisfied.

A couple of days later I receive a letter from the Vice Chancellor, which I won’t recount here, but suffice to say, his comments on the whole evening felt like a ringing validation of all my many months and years of work on this project. Who needs an Oscar? I thought to myself. That letter means more than any award. ( I think I’ll frame it…).

Next stop, next week, is North Yorkshire – for six performances in small town arts centres and the like.

Oh, the coolest chaplain’s name, by the way, is Mark. A very silly, juvenile streak in me kind of wished his name was Charles. (Can you see what’s coming?) Because then I could have said to him when I first met him, ‘Is it ok if I call you Charlie, chaplain?’

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