Remembering a much-mocked man with kindness

Opinion: In a week when we focus on departed souls, the Rev Jack Burton remembers an encounter from 58 years ago.

W H Auden affirmed that “The arts are our chief means of communication with the dead, without which a contented life is not possible.”

That enigmatic thought makes an ideal introduction to the week containing Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls.

Not for me the séance nor the ouija board: but a lively sense of history, a vivid imagination, pinches of poetry, romance, and religion combine to make this week special.

In the Creed, we say: ‘I believe in the communion of saints.’ It is right to remember the departed who inspired us. But don’t just celebrate the ‘respectable’ dead: saints and angels come in many guises.

Ronald Brian Moore died at The Grove 45 years ago. When I was a child, he was a familiar figure, short of stature and usually wearing a raincoat and cloth cap.

His feet pointed outward, and his progress was ponderous: yet I suspect he was highly alert.

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At his approach as children we either hid, or stayed to offer cheek.

Roll forward ten years. I had become a local preacher, and Ronnie appeared at some of my services. Those years had not been kind to him. He lived with an aged mother, and his appearance had become more unkempt.

Plainly lonely, he tried desperately to detain any sympathetic ear. I tried to be patient and listened. He spoke at great length and with much froth.

His material was low-quality ecclesiastical gossip, delivered with malice and much bitterness. He seemed a strange blend of Church of England, Railway Mission, and British Israelite. Sometimes, his sandwich-board warned of impending doom.

And yet… to me he showed kindness. He brought me old books, which I dumped – apart from one: a concordance which I have used throughout my ministry.

Then, one morning in 1959, I conducted worship at Calvert Street chapel. Afterwards, Ronnie surprised me. He commented on the worshipful manner in which he felt the whole service had been conducted.

I was thrilled at his insight and perspicacity, astounded that themes so important to me should find such unexpected endorsement. Nobody, nobody was ever to put it better.

For one book, and ten seconds of profundity, I honour a man whom most mocked. And in this week when the dead are recalled, his memory is a communication that adds to my life’s enjoyment and contentment.