My most amazing experience was perhaps the visit of the old blind parson. He only agreed to come and take duty for 4 weeks if I would be there to help him.
He was stone blind, even light shade having no meaning for him. His courage and bravery were quite extraordinary. He scorned to feel his way into Church, but walked up the aisle with marvellous assurance and missed the edges and corners by a hairbreadth. One could hear the sharp intake of breath among the more sympathetic of the congregation as he made straight for the jagged edge of carving and then as miraculously, missed it.
During the whole month he was taking duty I had to attend to him in everything. Each morning when there was an early Celebration I reached the Vestry at 7.50am and found him there waiting for me. He was standing in his cassock quite still with his hands clasped in front of him – it was almost like dressing a child – and to assure him that all was tidy. He read the Service from memory and his last words to me before he went into Church were “If I by any chance forget where I have got to, please continue with the prayers loudly enough for me to hear so that I can carry on.” The result was I never dared to take my eyes off the printed book.
He asked me to come up last to the Altar Rails and to give his surplice a little pull so that he should know he had come to the end of the Administrations.
He waited for me in the Vestry after Services to arrange matters for the day (I soon got to know which of his Braille books he needed) and one morning I let him go home alone. As I was folding away the linen I suddenly had a hunch that all was not well and I hurried out to look for him. To my horror I found him on the point of falling down the stokehole steps. Quite gently I called to him to stand still till I came and I took his arm and led him to his own gate.
He was anxious to visit Whipsnade and I took him and his boy (aged 7) over there for the afternoon. He and I wandered arm in arm all over the zoo while I described everything in a running commentary. Some days later a friend told me she had met him out at ten and was amazed at his descriptions of Whipsnade and all the animals and wondered if he was not as blind as he pretended to be!
The strain was very great and my nerves were a wreck by the end of the month. He was a miracle in himself. He had completely triumphed over his disability. There was always a smile on his face, although he had been blind since a child he would describe things in his sermons as if he really saw them. I suppose it was his way of making up to himself for the frustration of blindness.
His Church in London was St Judes Thornton Heath and they said he lived a charmed life for he crossed the busy roads by himself choosing a safe moment as if by instinct. He built a new Church and ten days before the Consecration it was burnt to the ground. His boy, the joy of his life, died at school when he was 14 years old.