Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Encounters at St Dunstan's in East Acton

Today it was getting dark when I was cycling past St Dunstan's Church in East Acton and heard the most beautiful organ music. The lights were on at the church. I turned left, left and left again and found myself by the open entrance gate. When I pushed the door open I decided to bring in the bike as I didn't really want to leave it outside. Apart from the organ music coming from the church interior, there was a lot going on in the room that led from the entrance hall into the church.

A woman in charge let me in so I could listen to the music and explained to me that she and other volunteers were preparing beds for the homeless people as part of the scheme churches in London run to help these people survive the cold season. I didn't want to disturb the volunteers and went inside the church.

There was the organ music, a beautiful dark interior, me and an elderly man who soon left to help the volunteers next door. I had it all to myself, could look at the details, take pictures and even make a little recording. Time was not a problem, lucky me, that evening.

After a while I went back into the room where the beds had almost been made in the meantime and had a chat with the lady called Jackie who let me in. I learnt more about the project and about the fact that they are always in need of more beds and bedding. There are several churches in Ealing Borough that take turns providing accommodation for the homeless between November and March every year. I think St Mary's in Acton is one of them. I was allowed to take pictures, the volunteers didn't mind.

As we were talking I noticed the elderly man in a bright red jumper working with the volunteers. Somehow, we started talking and this is how I met Derek. He lives nearby, on the other side of the M40, close to John Perryn School and St Dunstan's has always been his church. He was christened there and his parents gave him two names: Derek Leonard, after his grandfathers. He was seven when WW2 broke out. On finding out that I had come by bike, as he was seeing me off, he smiled broadly and told me that he was a member of The Middlesex Road Club for many years. So many happy memories he surely has of those years. When he held the door open for me he pointed at the font which occupies a strange place: outside, opposite the entrance on the lawn. Derek is not at all happy about it. He said he had protested against it being left outdoors at the mercy of elements and local vandals, but to no avail. I can understand him. After all, it's the very same font he was christened in. I looked at the scene at that very moment and simply had to preserve the scene with my smartphone camera. Derek agreed for me to take a picture of him in the bright red jumper, the font behind him and the dark blue sky in the background.

Regretfully,  I couldn't stay longer to listen to Derek's memories. I gave him my card if he wanted to call me for a chat, but I don't think he will call. As we were parting I gave him a  hug and we stayed close for a moment, and I tell you, Dear Reader, a very powerful moment it was.

To me it was a very meaningful experience, this relatively short time with an old man I may never meet again, a man who has stories to tell, but not someone to listen to them.

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