Clergy Corner

A Life in the Day of…

REV JOHN TOWLER

Hello and welcome to my day which began as always at the 7.30am alarm. Now it depends whose turn it is to make the breakfast and feed the dogs! Feeding dogs is pretty straight forward now. For the past month our dear Labrador Katy has been unwell and feeding her has been a problem, but on December 14th she finally joined her ancestors in the big rainbow in the sky – bless her. There is always and effusive welcome in the mornings because its foodtime! So, Christine and I take alternate days to prepare a simple breakfast of cereal or porridge or toast and a cup of tea which is eaten in bed, a tradition going back 30 odd years. Early morning is not my favourite time of the day – I don’t really come to until I have had my shower and out with the dogs again, a shared activity with Christine.

There is great social capital in walking dogs, many conversations to be had on all sorts of subjects from the weather, to history of puppies etc. Dog walking should be prescribed on the NHS as a therapy for depression. At the end of the walk there may be a number of tasks including food shopping in town. I have a weekly walking partner, David, and together we put the world to rights, are rude about politicians, talk of families and faith.

All my days are different. The mornings are taken up with a time of meditation (sometimes on the walk), bible reading and prayer. I have good days and bad days. It’s either feast or famine – and a nagging question that pops up about if there is a God show yourself! Hoovering, clearing up the night before and the usual tasks in keeping a home going take their place in the day.

I am semi -retired which brings its own joys in that I feel I can say yes or no to various pieces of work. As a psychotherapist I have small caseload of clients (including couples), and a bigger one of therapists who come for clinical supervision and support in their work. The former clients tend to have weekly sessions, the therapists a monthly consultation. In addition, I have various groups who receive consultation for their teaching work in Higher Education, and others who support troubled youngsters in school settings. I have been doing this professionally for 28 years, spending those early years in the City of London offering therapy, supervision and training in human relations. Now life is much quieter and still I find a satisfaction in providing such services. Everyone and every day is different and creates its own challenges, from broken marriages, suicidal clients, and those looking for a nudge to help them back on the path to recovery.

Of late the work has all been on Skype or Zoom or Teams – a real challenge for me in establishing effective working relationships on a screen!

Another day I may be involved in working through the process of helping a family create a funeral service or celebration service for their departed loved one. This can sometimes take a few hours over a number of days as the family thinks about hymns, music, and readings. Sometimes this will be solely accomplished by telephone, and email, as relatives live in different parts of the UK. My aim is always to support their choices and effect as much participation by the family as humanly possible.

Daily chores are shared. My share is doing the ironing and hoovering, preparing food – lots of chopping into small pieces.

My day is punctured by breakfast, lunch (most days), tea time and supper. I am not a great cook but largely prepare for Christine to cook. I look forward to these times when we chatter about anything and everything including our families (both on second marriages), dogs, horses, politics, shopping, our day. Recently once a week we have been in involved in a family quiz. I think I have seen more of my family than at any other time. It’s lovely to see them all in their homes in Worcester and Cornwall – son and daughter and grandchildren.

Late afternoon means another exercise time for the dogs, tea and a quiet time for reading, catching up on emails etc – of course this happens in the mornings. Before I walk the dogs in the morning, I usually scan the emails.

I love reading things theological and things psychological and cultural and of course, novels. I re-read books and unlike Christine, I read a book to the end even if I find it unfulfilling and dull. Obsessive, a strange form of discipline or stupidity who knows? I normally read Richard Rhors online meditation daily; always a theological book – currently Experience in Contemporary Spirituality by Fr Harry Williams. I have just finished Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantell and am now into the sequel Bring up the Bodies. I love her writing and her imagination in telling the story of Henry VIII through the voice of Thomas Cromwell, his love life, the politics of the time and of course the great schism in the church. I find it hard to believe dear old C of E came out of this unholy mess! God must have worked hard to achieve this! I love stories of all kinds because they help me in my journey through the ups and downs of life.

Evening proper starts with a glass of red wine, closing the curtains in the winter months, being around in the kitchen preparing veg or washing up or setting the table and lighting a candle for the meal – all very ritualistic. Supper time is chin-wag time, catch up time or being quiet with each other (sometimes noisy!).

During the Covid Crisis, Tuesday evening is spent on Zoom with a group of men from the local area called the Unpredictables. We have been meeting for 11 years now following its introduction by Peter Murphey when he was associate priest at Breamore Church. Normally we would meet in the Bat and Ball PH, attempting to play darts but generally letting off steam. Now we let off steam digitally!

Wednesday or Thursday evening is a quiz with my family in Worcester and Cornwall. Great fun. We always come last having not spent enough time watching films and listening to modern music! Ah well, ‘tis good for the soul!

We are both fond of watching Merlin, The Swedish/Danish detectives, Michael Palin, Dark Moments, and Channel 4 News. We have occasional clash of interests which soon get resolved by one of us dropping off to sleep. And in the famous words of the diarist Samuel Pepys, ‘And so to bed’.

I am aware there are other highlights of the week:

  • Choral evensong on Wednesday afternoon on Radio 3, or failing that Sunday afternoon.
  • Sunday worship and preparing sermons.
  • Thursday morning Staff Meeting.
  • Reading the Sunday papers.
  • My music lesson for playing the mandolin with William Shering.

Many of you will know we are camping out at Hyde Vicarage before our move to Downton in April. Living in the Vicarage is not a good exercise in learning to downsize. However, it is lovely living in the Forest. Saturdays are now spent in Downton decorating and planning what goes where – lots of changes of mind, disagreements to be negotiated, but a good experience as we often watch the swan float gracefully by at the end of the garden.

Life is full; never a dull moment. And I guess like many others full of ups and downs, joys and regrets. Ciao.

Best advice I was given: Honour yourself and you will know how to honour others.

Advice I’d give: Therapists do not give advice however – ‘Be yourself’ it takes too much energy to be some else!

What I wish I’d known: How important it is to live with not knowing.

A video of ‘John’s Life in the Day of…’ can be seen here: https://youtu.be/9gnnMb-yj6k