|Posted by StephenRBeet on May 29, 2016 at 11:15 PM|
A Tribute to a Great Man with a Towering Personality
by one of our members:
Many people have written about “The Vicar”, as we used to call him. It was the ex- M.P. for Derby, the late Philip Whitehead who described him in 1979 as “a true English Worthy” and reminded us of the bucolic world of the past that he represented, living in that rambling haunted Vicarage (with the ghosts of The Blue Lady, and the Monk), just as the county parsons of old England had always done. But he was not a man who lived in the past; he was a man of the people who accepted everyone as they were and tried to lead them to better things. Maurice Darwin, a one-time Curate of Mr. Barber, who preached at his funeral on the 8th of the 8th ’88 said he was a “saintly man” and closer to God than anyone he had known.
Somehow, his presence seemed to open a window to heaven through which we could briefly look out from our earthly lives. Mrs Sheila Hitchcocks, a long-time member of Mr. Barber’s congregation (whose watch stopped at precisely eleven o’clock on that August morning, and has refused to go ever since), said these moments came very suddenly, once for her when she was listening to one of the Vicar’s sermons. What she described as a “funny feeling” came over her and she knew that somehow God was close. How many of us who knew Mr. Barber so well, recall such an experience when, briefly we felt some spiritual reality.
Brief though those moments were, we knew that the Vicar had a ‘Special Presence’. I remember one lady saing that she could fee that he was in church even before she had opened the door, and, equally, she knew when he was not! To us, especially the boys of the choir, servers and Boys’ Club, he was everything: a true friend, mentor, a tower of strength and something unshifting, yet flexible, in the world in which we were growing up. Many came to him with their own special problems: things they could not discuss with parents or others, but would pour them out into that sympathetic ear. For those who had done wrong, he sent them away with the assurance of God’s forgiveness and the command to make a fresh start and to “begin life all over again.” Many went to Sacramental Confession and believed in the power invested in him at his Ordination to pronounce God’s forgiveness. “By this laying on of hands” we somehow knew that our sins have been forgiven.” All the hurts and worries of life melted away in his presence. Just sitting in the cub room with him was a privilege. Listening to our problems, he would somehow take the burden upon himself and carry it away to another place. To hear him speak the words of the Communion Service or “Mass” as we called it in those days, was described by Archdeacon Rawlinson of Derby as “a special privilege”. He also wrote of the Vicar’s skill with the sick and dying. Even to hear his footsteps orhis voice was a special comfort.
One boy remarked at camp once that “you just don’t want to behave badly when the Vicar is here.” If he couldn’t always teach us to be good, he taught us to be careful!
But as the time passes, memories go dim; the long 30 years or more have intervened since we were last in that presence, and what we believed so firmly in childhood is now uncertain; we have forgotten the emotions and feelings that were so special at the time, blurred and even corrupted by the realities of modern secular life. Individual kind deeds and happy memories remain, but that spiritual presence is harder to recall and certainly almost impossible to convey to someone who was not there at the time. How can we ever describe to our children and grandchildren what he meant to us, if we have in part forgotten ourselves? We have lost connection with the past and we are tempted to ask “Was it really so? Have we not exaggerated the effect of this great man?”
But then , occasionally, an event, sight or sound reminds us; and then, in that brief flash the long years of doubt are banished, at least for a time. Only such a spiritual presence could inspire the absolute loyalty we felt for him, and still do . So fierce was this loyalty, that the way he was treated in his last years by the church authorities is still as painfully felt now bby some as it was the time.
On the eve of his funeral in Spondon Church, an all-night vigil was kept by his coffin by members of the Boys’ Club, one boy even climbing down a tree outside his bedroom in defiance of his father so that he may keep watch in the small hours!
It seemed right that Mr Barber died during the then new Vicar’s vacation abroad, leaving the church in the charge of a much more agreeable young curate, who approved all the traditional funeral rites that had been swept away. When the Vicar’s coffin was brought into the church after Evensong on the Sunday, over 100 members of the Boys’ Club were there to pay their respects. Some stayed on for several hours to join the rosta of boys who were keeping vigil in two-hour shifts throughout the night. At 8 a.m. the next morning, there was a traditional Requiem Mass taken by Canon Ross when over 100 took communion. And then at 11am the church was packed for the funeral itself at which Maurice Darwin, Mr. Barber’s one-time faithful Curate, gave his memorable address. Pete Meakin, in his classic oblique style hits the nail exactly on the head in his recent tribute to the vicar:
A word of criticism from the Rev. Barber, only ever given with the greatest care and consideration, would cut deeper than the sharpest knife.
But it wasn’t only what he said which made him the most remarkable man you or I are ever likely to meet. It was what he did. His actions, his manners, his demeanour, his very being unceasingly reaffirmed what was of true value and meaning in life.... In living for others, we beheld a man who was wholly himself. A one-off. Unique. His imprint, like the watermark in a ten-pound note, remains in all of us who were lucky enough to know him and to grow up under his care. His influence is still felt. His spirit shines on.