Arthur Lewis on the College of Saint Barnabas

Father Tony Grain did the sensible thing. He came to the College of St Barnabas twenty years ago, still full of energy, after much pastoral work and a distinguished career as chaplain of Springvale School in Rhodesia. On December 21st of this year, the old St Thomas’s Day, he hopes to be celebrating the 70th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. The College will (DV) be celebrating with him.

Father Tony is now 96, our oldest resident, and still going strong. He has a fund of sermon stories which would be the envy of any preacher. ‘Without a parable’, he quotes, ‘spake he not unto them.’

Malta is the latest place he has visited, and he is quite an authority on the island. Nothing, not even a brief spell in hospital, has been able to hold him down. He greets newcomers with ‘Can you play snooker?’ and is less than enthusiastic about those of us who have to reply: ‘Sorry, no.’ Playing some game is an advantage here, though folk are good-humoured about those of us who don’t.

Shortly after his arrival at St Barnabas Father Tony started our annual DIY concert after Christmas, which has been held ever since. At least, it was held annually until a couple of years ago. Then we had no one willing and able to run it. That was when alarm bells began to ring in the minds of many of us. We are too old.


St Barnabas is for retired Anglican priests and their wives and widows. It is for those who have dedicated their lives to Our Lord’s service in the parishes or in the mission field. It is not a refuge for the incapacitated, unless they have first arrived in good health and able to offer active service. We all succumb to the ravages of age in the end, but first we are expected if possible to take turns at celebrating the daily mass in chapel and officiating at the offices. We are expected – save in exceptional circumstance – to take an active part in the life of the College. Then in our later years we will gladly be looked after till the end. The College has first-rate medical services.

St Barnabas is not in the least like an ordinary ‘old people’s home’. You do not sacrifice your independence. You have a flat of your own (whether single or married) and you pursue your own interests. But you are freed from the chores of cooking, washing up and mowing the lawn. If you have a car you bring it: if you don’t, well, the College is 100 yards from the railway station and there is regular transport into East Grinstead, the nearest town. Whether you go out to help in the local parishes is up to you.

There are lots of country walks, including a paved one. There are good libraries. The College grounds include woodland as well as attractive and well-kept gardens and croquet and putting lawns. Father Tony knew what he was doing when he came to this corner of rural Surrey!

The present writer has been at St Barnabas for four years, and regards it as one of the best-kept secrets of the Church of England. We have a Warden with a sense of humour, a Bursar with a genius for finding money for those who have problems with the fees and a Housekeeper who is very much on top of her job. Further, we have a young Matron who, with her staff, look after the sick and the infirm.

The residents, however diverse their views, get on like a house on fire. Most of us are Catholics, though the one or two Evangelicals are just as happy as the rest of us. The century-old buildings – internally modernized – give dignity to the College.

Why on earth youngish retired priests, in their sixties and seventies, are not actually falling over themselves to come here is hard to understand. Do they suppose their priestly days are done? Do they imagine they can go it alone for ever? It is true that the provisions made by the Church of England Pensions Board are altogether excellent, and all retired priests depend on them in one way or another. It may seem that there is no need for an independent Anglican College such as St Barnabas. But what happens when you are too old or too ill for the Board’s retirement homes? There are not too many suitable places to go to then.

Don’t leave it too late. It will not be long before the Church of England’s best kept secret is out, and applicants will be told ‘house full.’ Father Tony Grain is just one of the many priests who have made wonderful contributions to the College over many years. He will deserve and enjoy our celebration on the old St Thomas’ Day. Priests contemplating retirement may care, at their convenience, to come to have a look at St Barnabas for themselves.

Arthur Lewis was a missionary in Africa for over 40 years. At different times he was both ARchdeaon of Inyanga and an unopposed independent Senator in the latter days of Rhodesia