With tales of pop stardom, politics and priesthood, the Reverend Richard Coles delighted his audience. A born raconteur, there were anecdotes galore about a ‘liveable life’, as he called it.
The former choirboy had turned atheist turned member of The Communards turned Christian and then priest. The ‘borderline national trinket’, as he called himself, the broadcaster, the author and now retired parish minister regaled us, making us laugh and, at times, moving us towards tears.
He described knowing he was gay in his teenage years and the difficulties and the joys of that then and since. There followed a life of popstar treatment and world travel and celebrity. A member of the Red Wedge left-wing activist movement in the 80s he went on to be a catalyst for social justice and action in his 21st century parochial ministry. He spoke about his loves and losses, not least the death of his husband, David. And about his faith – ‘At last, a vicar who’s not embarrassed to talk about God’ I reflected as I came away from the secular gathering. No doubt, some in the audience may not have heard such a clear expression of the Jesus message for a long time (if at all) and no doubt some didn’t like it… but what a tragedy it would have been if he had not talked about God at all (as so many Christians don’t when they’re not in church – and many don’t even when they are…).
A self-confessed attention-seeker, he came across as an ordinary human being to whom some extraordinary things have happened. Many of his anecdotes and jokes were told against himself. There was a humility. A public demonstration of words he had felt challenged by, spoken by John the Baptist in relation to Jesus: ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ (John 3:30)
But it was another reference that spoke profoundly to me. When he quoted a verse which I’ve used about mental wellbeing and gone to on other occasions when reassurance of what the Jesus message is: “I have come that you may have life in all its fullness.” (John 10:10)
A verse used as a way of encouraging people to redress unhelpful imbalances in life, to look for hope, joy, satisfaction, wellness – a life which contains good things. And yet of course life is not like that – life will never be without difficulty and it is pointless to expect it to be so.
Richard Coles put it like this (my version), life in all its fullness is about love, joy, fear, despair, grief, sadness and everything else we experience that is harsh and difficult. All parts of this thing we call a liveable life. Taking the rough with the smooth.
Knowing that in the river of life both rough and smooth waters exist side by side. This is life in all its fullness.
Details of books are available at richardfrostauthor.com.
Photo of Rev Richard Coles from X (Twitter).