Retired priest, John Ware, recounts how a link visit in 1985 was the start of a 30 year friendship with a final twist in the tail.
All real existence is meeting....so wrote Martin Buber the famous jewish thinker. He had a point. We can hear about people. We can read about people. We can see pictures or hear recordings of people, but it is only when we meet them that they really begin to come alive to us. So it was for me when in 1985 I met Canon Simon Kahiriita from Bunyato-Kitara diocese in Uganda.
Simon was the leader of a small party of visitors to Bristol Diocese in 1985. At that time I was Vicar of Kingswood and Rural Dean of Bitton deanery and Kingswood parish was asked to host them for a while. For me this was the beginning of a relationship with Canon Simon and his family which continues to this day . Although I have never been to Uganda we have kept in touch first by letter and in more recent times by email. We have shared news about each others families and work and supported each other by prayer and in whatever other ways we could. In that time we have learnt about the development of our families and of our changing spheres of work . Latterly we have each moved into retirement mode and taken on the roles of grand fatherhood and ,as we approach 80, of the grey headed(See Psalm 71)
In 2011 Simon was sponsored by a relative to visit the UK. It was not an official church visit but it had the blessing of his bishop. At that time I was in the middle of the five years during which I was Bishops Officer for retired clergy and Church Workers in the Archdeaconry of Bristol. This was very fortuitous because one of the areas of concern that Simon wished to explore was how the Church of England cares for its retired clergy and their spouses. Simon was to come for a month during which he wanted to spend a week each with contacts in Winchester and Chester diocese and the rest of the time with us in Bristol diocese. He asked me to set this all this up and I agreed to set about doing it. It was all fairly straightforward except for last minute difficulties with the British Border Agency Office who at first refused him a Visa.
During His fortnight in Bristol I took Simon to meet Holy Trinity Kingswood parish again and there were many there who remembered his visit 26years earlier. He also preached and answered questions at the Parish Mass at Holy Trinity Horfield in which I had made my home upon retirement. He also attended things in the diocese during which he met bishop Mike and I also arranged for him to stay in Trinity College for three days.
Throughout this time we had many discussions and especially about the care of retired clergy. I introduced him to the idea of a Retired Clergy Association. He did not realise how much is done by the Church of England for its retired clergy and what he learnt has inspired him to start a Retired Clergy Association in his own Diocese. As yet ,however,the Church in Uganda has no pension scheme for its clergy though I understand that that some dioceses there are beginning to move in that direction. As we discussed we began to wonder what could be done to alleviate some of the problems that retired clergy have in Uganda. Apparently most clergy there have some land to cultivate and it was this fact that led us to the idea that if each person could be provided with a pig upon retirement this would give them not only an interest but also a means of food and by breeding from the pigs a means of income. Also if a condition of having a pig was that each person should use some its first litters to provide pigs for other clergy as they retired the whole scheme would be self-perpetuating once it was established. My job would be to find UK funding to get the Pig Scheme established.
Simon returned to Uganda and early in 2013 his Diocesan Retired Clergy Association was formally set up and had its first meeting. While he was doing this in Uganda I decided to appeal to my fellow retired clergy and their spouses in the Bristol Archdeaconry. The response was tremendous and in no time at all I was able to send over 2000 to Simon. I heard from him last month that he has now provided most of the retired clergy on his list with a pig. This must have been a lot of work for him as he has only a motorbike to travel across his whole diocese. We could still do, however, with a bit more money for all the present group of retired clergy to have their pig. Even so if that does not appear there are enough people now with pigs for them to breed offspring for those who do not yet have one.
I hope that this little account of how the Bristol-Uganda Link can make a difference will encourage others and help us all to enjoy the feast of God's Kingdom ..... even if it is bacon!