Alan Edwards worships the King

In the long lost days of the early 1950s before sex was invented and Bill Haley had rocked for a moment, let alone around the clock, the Headmaster of my all-boys grammar school decided that we needed civilizing by the introduction of ‘tea dances’, allied to the young ladies of two neighbouring all-girls academies.

Thus straw-boatered Mary Poppins’ from the local convent school and crisp-bloused girls from the County High became occasional elements of the school’s curricular scene.

Then Billy Graham arrived in Britain and several of the liveliest lasses discovered religion and took themselves off to a Youth Group associated with a back street Bethel which carried the name of a sixteenth-century Anglican Reformer, but which had long since shed any vestiges of Anglican formality or formularies.

The young ladies became what would now be called a Worship Group, luckily discovering that the rhythms of evangelistic choruses formed happy links with their interest in the developing skiffle craze. ‘The Rock Island Line’ ran alongside the River Jordan at whose banks the girls’ choruses invited the congregation to gather.

Where the girls went some boys followed, and I spent two years ‘sitting at the feet of’ a pastor whose mentor in one respect must have been Amos Starkadder of Cold Comfort Farm.

As Amos prayed for ‘one of they liddle Ford vans’, so Pastor Dai prayed for ‘a covered conveyance’.

His prayer for a car was justified, for the valley from which he came had roads that were kinder to wandering sheep than to a faithful shepherd of a Mission Hall flock, but the good man’s prayer was never answered. Conveyed away, he temporarily was to be replaced by another gentle spirit, Morgan, fresh from Bible College in London, a geographical origin that aroused awe and suspicion in equal measure. He was welcomed for his youth, for then, as now, ‘getting in touch with youth’ was seen as the way to halt church-going decline.

Decline was evidenced by the Mission’s empty chairs. All were faithfully polished by Megan the caretaker, singing ‘There’s a work for Jesus, Ready at your hand’ as she polished. However, if she was acting upon the ‘laborare est orare principle’, she was to be disappointed for the prayers for growth were not answered.

The surrounding streets were tramped, tracts distributed, the sick sought and sympathized with, the Youth activities advertised and Megan’s chairs, shining like the crystals of Revelation, moved to the side of the hall in the evenings to allow more space for Badminton and Bible Study, Ping Pong and Prayer.

Covenanters (Crusaders were ‘Church, not chapel, see’) gained and lost recruits, Christian Herald introduced, because it contained Billy Graham’s ‘My Answer’ (possibly also because of its sub-title ‘Radiant Youth’), and a handful came to know the Lord, myself among them, but the Beulah Land of every seat bottomed was not achieved. ‘Golden Bells’ was not the draw that Graham Kendrick was later to prove, and ‘charismatic’ would have been seen as a word to describe those suffering from ‘the dust’

Although the elders, like present day football chairmen, expressed every confidence in the youthful pastor, like present day football managers, he was soon gone and the place thereof knew him no more and the previous pastor returned.

Billy Graham also returned. The Music Group sang on and I became bewitched by raven-haired Delyth, the lead singer, who, to my mind, had a musical and physical resemblance to Connie Francis – an enthralment that Delyth had the good sense not to return. National Service called and Delyth relented by sending letters on heavily scented purple paper with Bible verses jostling with references to the music of the latest singing sensation, Elvis Presley.

Rock and Roll had arrived. ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’ shone brightly alongside ‘Golden Bells’. The man from Mississippi had plucked the chords that were to lead from ‘It’s Alright, Mama’ to Maranatha Music, from Sun City Studio to ‘Shine, Jesus, Shine’, from ‘King’ Presley’ to ‘King’ Kendrick. Even leaden limbs like mine responded to the sound, although this particular RAF ‘erk’ couldn’t match the gyrations of ‘GI Blues’

At the same time as Elvis arrived in my life so did Anglicanism. On my RAF base I was about to be introduced to the comprehensive world of the CofE by a fox-hunting Anglo-Catholic parson whose invitation to the folk of the village in which the base stood was ‘Bible Study: You bring the beer – I’ll provide the Bibles’ I brought a bottle and 1956 became 1662 and ‘Love Me Tender’ was joined by ‘Dearly Beloved Brethren’ .

Readers of New Directions will be glad to know that, having become an Anglican, I made the pilgrimage to Walsingham many years before a trip to Graceland. With 2005 being the 70th anniversary of Presley’s birth, perhaps I ought to make another visit to Memphis as well as going to the SSC rally at the Albert Hall. That would surely be in tune with the Anglican via media

Alan Edwards is a bookseller