Fourteen years ago I was made a deacon by the Rt Rev’d Michael Henley. He was Bishop of the Diocese of St Andrews, Dunblane and Dunkeld and I was about to begin my curacy at St Ninian’s Cathedral in Perth. I knew he was retired from the Navy and at the rehearsal I learned that he called everyone “My dear”. I, in turn, call everyone “Darling” so I knew we’d get on fine. That became even more evident when I sneaked round the back of the cathedral for a sneaky cigarette and found him puffing away on one too. On the day itself he told everyone in the cathedral that he’d never been called Bishop Darling before.
The curate’s flat in Perth was above the Diocesan Office so we’d bump into each other often, usually when he was out for a smoke. One day he was standing on the doorstep as the hearse that was about to pick me up for a funeral drew up outside. I ran downstairs in my cassock, cotta and stole over my arm, and he said he wasn’t surprised it was me doing it. The coffin had a large stuffed Old English Sheepdog sprawled on top of it, with googly eyes and a red tongue hanging out. (A long story which I’ll tell you one day!) I think he thought I was bonkers.
By the time I was due to be priested he invited me into his office and asked if I’d mind if there were two bishops at my ordination. He joked about one bishop not being enough for me! The other was the Bishop of Meath & Kildare, our link diocese in Northern Ireland. It was said that the link came about because the two bishops shared a love of whisky and fishing, and not much to do with church matters. Either way, I was delighted to be ‘done’ by two bishops.
I remember one Christmas party arriving at the Bishop’s house in St Andrews. The door was opened by his wife Rachael, who informed me that she was ‘Darling Number One’ and I wasn’t to forget it. I think she was joking!
Throughout my curacy I served at the altar for +Mike many times. He was gentle and kind and always appreciative. He died on Friday. Rest eternal, +Mike, and may your fag never go out.