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A Man of Few Words - by Swan Morrison

The Spire

I looked again at the image of our church spire painted on hardboard and attached to the outer wall of St Basil’s. The red infilling that marked the progress of the restoration appeal had remained for months at around five thousand pounds. The target of one hundred thousand pounds, as our church contribution towards the necessary repairs, seemed an impossible goal.

The good ladies of the church had devoted themselves tirelessly to coffee mornings and cake sales, but their rate of income generation was simply too low.

My first idea to enhance that income occurred during a day trip to Calais. I realised that it was possible to buy significant quantities of cheap cigarettes and alcohol that could then be quietly sold at a profit, with the proceeds directed to the Spire Appeal.

The crypt at midnight on Fridays soon became better attended than Sunday services, and the event turned into quite a social gathering. People would sit and chat while consuming some of their purchases. Some would start poker games - which gave me the idea for a new source of funds for the spire. As poker and other forms of gambling increased, I asked that ten percent of winnings be donated to the church.

The red paint line on the hardboard spire rose steadily, and within a year had reached the ninety thousand pounds mark.

It was only then I re-read the conditions placed on the church by the Diocese for their contribution to the repairs. They had pledged to add one hundred thousand pounds when the church had raised one hundred thousand pounds. This would make the two hundred thousand pounds needed for the work. There was a time limit, however, and, with horror, I noted that our remaining ten thousand pounds had to be raised within two months.

Being closely involved with St Basil’s allowed me to be party to much confidential information. In particular, the sinful activities of Mrs Stevenson, Mrs Parker, Mrs Fotescue-Smyth and several others who were conducting adulterous liaisons of which their husbands were unaware. Their desire to see the spire repaired linked with their desire for their extra-marital activities to remain undiscovered, led them to generously offer some expansion of their favours to men in surrounding villages. The income from this and from ‘secrecy insurance payments’ from men in surrounding villages resulted in the deadline being met. We now have a wonderfully restored spire to the glory of God.

It was some months later when the Bishop summoned me to his office. He had heard of the fund-raising activities of the church and confronted me with the question of whether, as vicar of St Basil’s, I had really believed it to be appropriate to fund church repairs from the proceeds of cigarettes, alcohol, gambling, prostitution and blackmail.

When he put it like that, it made me reconsider deeply whether our Lord would have approved. I was forced to conclude that he probably would have not.

The Bishop, however, accepted my repentance and granted me forgiveness. He also greatly honoured me by putting me in charge of fund-raising for the Cathedral roof....