Best Training for Ministry — Ever

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 on May 26, 2020

So — this was my third year in England, and London became my hunting ground for work as a pub entertainer. I had a day job in the suburbs driving a bakery truck. I was up and out around 5 a.m. to get the first round of baked goods into the shops. I loved that job. The shops were empty at that hour of the day but by the time for the second round came along the ladies had arrived for the day. They always had a sausage roll ready for me by the end of my shift. I remember one life-long bakery lady showing me the trapdoor she would climb down when the WW 1 zeppelins came over. As a teen she put on a leather harness to pull a wagon with baked goods up and down streets with a chant calling out to the houses as she walked by — I wish I could remember what she sang to me. Stories for another day.

London pubs in the mid ‘70s were lively places on a Friday and Saturday night. Full of smoke and noise. Pubs in the east end where I played frequently felt like below decks on a 19th century battleship. You had to duck strategically to avoid bonking your head (did I say ‘bonking’?).

I remember one pub at closing time — in my mind’s eye the whole place was tilted like a ship at sea — a loud brass bell clanging away at last call — the air acrid and full of smoke. You’d swear the cannons had gone off during an engagement with the Spanish Armada. 

Into that smoke I sang Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton and some rude Cockney Songs: “What a wonderful fish is the sole, our sole, our sole, ‘r sole…” The whole place would be wailing away on these tunes. English folk love Country and Western music. 

My favourite pub was The Camp in St. Alban’s run by a Liverpudlian Mr. & Mrs. At 11 p.m. they would lock the door and the real party would begin. A gentleman in full cowboy regalia would often turn up just before closing — with hat, chaps and guns in a cowboy holsters. An hour into overtime at the height of ecstacy, as we sang Ghost Riders in the Sky … Yiippee Ai OOOhhh … Yippie ai AAAA … he would whip out his guns and fire off five or six blanks …exciting! 

The training for ministry part came in (as I remember with awe) the unbelievable variety of people and events who would pass by: the publican’s wife who wore a skin tight white unitard with white leather fringed cowboy boots and fancied herself a singer; the night my hippie American friend won the door prize in a working man’s club; the night a racist pub owner fired the black band in front of a roomful of people; the night the JR Club (remember Dallas?) unplugged my gear telling me I was (expletive deleted); the night the East end strolling accordian player came in, stood right in front of me and blew me out of the water! 

 The gamut of life … a parish of its own.

  • Max Woolaver

    The Venerable Max Woolaver is rector of St. Andrew's, Grimsby. He is also an avid singer/songwriter as well as a retreat leader. Max was ordained in the Diocese of Niagara in 1986 and received his M.Div. from Wycliffe College, University of Toronto; he also studied at the Shalem Institute of Spiritual Formation.

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