An Eventful End
The historic village of Warnham, West Sussex. It was there the famous poet and atheist Percy Shelley was christened in 1792. St Margaret’s has several elegantly engraved stones within and without commemorating the local Shelley landowners. It was their tenants’ rents which allowed Shelley the free style life he led. His first tutor was the Reverend Evans,the young squire would ride over every day for lessons.
Like the later day poet Ted Hughes , Shelley caused several women to commit suicide. Poets because they deal with deep emotions can be very effective.
But it was in this lovely 12th century church, rebuilt in the 14th and 19 th centuries that my son Leo so beautifully married Victoria the mother of my granddaughter Octavia. Presiding that day five years ago had been the Reverend Christopher Loveless.
At this year’s generous Christmas lunch at Vicky’s parents I learnt that the Reverend Loveless had committed suicide in the summer. One evening he had disappeared, his wife also an ordained priest had raised the alarm and the police found him hanging from a tree in a nearby wood.
We remember that at the time of the service he had had an operation for a brain tumour and there was some doubt about whether he would officiate. But all the reports of his death and there were several, mentioned none of that, but talked of “struggling with stress for some time”.
Maybe he feared or knew the tumour had returned. Maybe he was suffering a midlife crisis ,which in his case might have meant a doubting of his faith. Which given that his wife was a priest would be even more fundamentally disturbing. Her ordination could have triggered an unhealthy sense of competition. Had there been some agonising over sexuality? We do not know what brought down the dark night of depression. Whatever , two children lost their dad.
The suicide of a priest is rare which made his death something of a serious news item. While doctors, dentists, policemen and vets are well known for taking the Roman way , men of the cloth rarely take a short cut to the eternal life ,even when depressed. For some suicide is considered a mortal sin.
Loveless’s life spent seriously practicing his caring loving profession was made famous by its end.Here was a man who besides a short period as a teacher(a sweet man and a great teacher, remembered one student) who went to Oxford, theological college and then spent his whole life as a curate and priest in Sussex. Almost Victorian in its confidence, certainty and simplicity. The 53 year old had been vicar at Warnham for fifteen years.
A few years earlier he had published a well received book on English saints. Strange Eventful History. On its publication he wrote in the Warnham Warbler
Allowing yourself to be slowed down, whether by speed limits, or queues, or the failure of other people to reply to your e-mails, can be a spiritual discipline. As I slow down to twenty, I thank God that nothing in my hurried little life really matters as much as his eternal truth and beauty. As I wait in a supermarket queue, I can meditate on a Bible verse or an incident from Christ’s life. As I wait for other people to fall in with my oh-so-important plans, I can pray for them and recover a sense of them as beloved brothers and sisters, rather than just obstacles to my progress. Submitting to being slowed down gives me time to notice the important things – a child, a vocation, an idea. Perhaps we need a new beatitude: Blessed are the frustrated, for they have a chance to see what really matters.
It is too easy to read into those words a possible cause of depression and the rationale for an intelligent man to feel he had come to the end of the road. With a faith that strong and certain the slightest ripple could cause an avalanche.