Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bernard SSF, 1928 - 2007

Bernard was born in Birmingham in 1928 into the Apps family and was christened Michael John. His father was a family business man, with civic pride and a commitment to community which showed most fully when he was Lord Mayor. Bernard attributed to his father his own pragmatic, single-minded vigour (which some found less than easy to live with!) and to his remarkable, lively mother (who, alas, became totally immobile with arthritis for over 50 years) such courage, humour and ability to listen as he possessed. To his evangelical conversion at 14 he attributed his life-long affective spirituality and christian discipleship. After various schools (it was wartime) he finished his last term in 1947 as school-captain at King Edward's and went ont to military service, especially enjoying his subaltern year in Germany. At 21 he began 4 years (2 history, 2 theology) at Pembroke College, Cambridge, thoroughly enjoying the life and gaining much from his friends and the distinguished ones of that era (some of whom tutored and lectured him) but usually disappointing them in his exam results. He gained two oars (though not in the highest level boats), was president of the Student Christian Movement, met Br Michael, Fr Algy and the Franciscans and plighted his troth to them in 1953. Two years at Cuddesdon and three in Spalding parish (beloved by him always), a train journey to Dorset (weeping behind the Times) and soon he was a novice SSF at Glasshampton. He emerged in the summer of 1959 winnowed and thinner. He said that he may well have left SSF then, but decided to give it 'one more go' at the house in Plaistow, East London, where over the next ten years he was, variously, youth leader, parish priest, head of the house, operative in a pickle factory ('the world was setting the agenda' in the 60's), part-time community psychiatric social worker, confessor and spiritual guide, missiom preacher, SSF visitor to Oxford each term and Assistant Provincial Minister SSF. He moved on in 1969 to fill a gap in Brisbane Australia, where he loved the people, the surf and the sun (though in moderation), the work in the dioceses and around Australia and in Brookfield Friary which he left free of debt and with an impressively simply chapel. Six months sabbatical/hermit/wilderness period in Hong Kong's New Territories (with Zen Buddhism, Mao's China and 'the darker side of capitalism') brought him back to England and soon to Canterbury; then to 13 years in Dorset as Guardian of Hillfield Friary. He determined to maintain the basic tradition there, but was happy with most of the innovations. He especially loved the one-to-one work and the chapel life (someone said that it was with characteristic gusto that he 'hurtled himself into contemplative prayer'!), he was away on parish missions, retreat, General Synod work (especially on mission issues) and he enjoyed writing in 1986 a small Fount-Collins book 'Open to God' in which he acknowledged what Francis, the Franciscan movement and SSF meant to him. He believed it was the way through which the redeeming God worked with his (ENTJ/Enneagram 8) personality. He returned to East London (Stepney) in 1989 and continued much the same mix of activity, gradually concentrating more on the one-to-one. Two more years at Canterbury followed before he returned to Hillfield in 2005.

Reflecting on all this, Bernard has three comments: 'Deo Gratias' for all God's bounties and the many people who helped him grow; 'kyrie eleison' - begging pardon of God and from all whom he has wronged or misled; and 'Deus meus et omnia' as his deepest aspiration. He hopes to continue praying for those he has met in his life.

(Bernard's autobiographical obituary)

The funeral service was marvellous; full Anglo-Catholic bells and smells, but intimately so (and although I loved it there was a distinct sense of 'this isn't quite where I am now'); an excellent address from Br Sam (very distinct from Rev Sam!) which was honest and loving; a good time to catch up with people I hadn't seen for a long time. I never knew he drank whisky (in moderation)!

Lots of feelings and reflections stirred up. Bernard was the man who put me back together after the episode described (hinted at!!) here, and I am undoubtedly a very different man for having known him. I last saw him about 18 months ago, in London, when I shared with him those lines from a Leonard Cohen song: "And even though it all went wrong I'll stand before the Lord of song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah." He liked them so much he jotted them down.


I think one of the reasons why he helped me so much is that I too am an 8 on the Enneagram (and virtually the same in Myers-Briggs terms) - and he could see that I was struggling with many of the same things that he had struggled with. There were various remarks about Bernard's 'controlling' side(!) and I too need to keep that side in check, or else succumb to the unhealthy side of power.

Bernard was certainly one of God's wounded healers; that's something I too aspire to be.


Bernard, our companion in faith and brother in Christ, we entrust you to God who created you.
May you return to the Most High who formed you from the dust of the earth.
May the angels and the saints come to meet you as you go forth from this life.
May Christ who was crucified for you, take you into his kingdom.
May Christ the Good Shepherd give you a place within his flock.
May Christ forgive you your sins and keep you among his people.
May you see your Redeemer face to face and delight in the vision of God for ever.

1 comment:

  1. I am currently reading 'Open to God' which is one of the best most down-to-earth books I have ever read. I suddenly find myself rather sad that I never had the chance to meet Bernard. I feel sure I would have liked him a great deal.

    I particularly enjoyed the passage in his book where he describes his interactions with the Sisters of St Clare, because in that brief paragraph at least, we share a certain joyful experience.

    I should probably not be surprised that upon doing a google search for biographical details on the man, I end up back at Elizaphanian! Small world. ;)


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