Our Parish Priest

Fr Philip was born in Kenya in 1959 and came to live in Britain when he was four years old. When he was eight he was taken with his family to live in Fabrica Baghlan in Afghanistan. This was a beautiful village sandwiched between dusty hills and the Kunduz River on the road between Kabul and Kunduz. As a child his bedroom, and the garden, was increasingly full of animals – or bits of them – many carefully labelled. Even his brother had a label over his bed: Homo sapiens. On the door it said “Bedroom and Museum” shared between his brother, pigeons, various birds, beetles, and scorpions (all of which escaped and only a few were recaptured) and so on. Outside was a herd of tortoises that chomped their way through the vegetable garden and sparred ceaselessly with each other. The donkey, Betsy, would gain attention by braying “10,11, 12,… 15, 16 times” as my father would say as he sat on the veranda overlooking the fruit trees and the vines.

Aged 11 this changed as he went to a boarding school in the British Midlands. Thankfully some excellent teachers enabled him to continue his interests with the result that his study was full to the brim with the pelts, skeletons and preserved parts of various animals, dozens of plants and a number of tanks of insects and aquatic finds. The smell was entirely beyond description! About this time the school had a series of talks given by a young evangelical minister. Philip was most interested in the minister’s enthusiasm and that this enthusiasm had led him to be very poor. However what the man had to say did not seem to make sense; much of what was said seemed to be rather bad news. He decided to look into the matter for himself. Eventually he hit upon the Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark. He had read this several times before in preparing for exams but this time there was an element of excitement which became ever more intense as chapter succeeded chapter. Jesus is the Son of God. He is the God-man. No wonder the myrrh bearing women ran away from the tomb, beside themselves in terror, saying nothing to anyone, because…

Philip first heard of the Orthodox Church over breakfast one Sunday before School Chapel. The night before a group calling themselves the “Culture Vultures” had been to St. Lazar’s Church in Birmingham for Vespers. They spoke about incense, vestments, icons and beautiful music that had moved them all profoundly. Philip remembers thinking “How strange that no one has told me of this before.” Later whilst reading for a degree in ecology the local Anglican parish priest (with whose family he was lodged) showed him a picture of a group of Orthodox Bishops meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury. Whilst he looked at all these long beards the priest told him the astonishing news that the Orthodox Church believed in the original creed.

Upon graduation Philip spent sixteen months in Mogadiscio, Somalia and Mapanza, Zambia, snorkelling, sailing, reading, learning New Testament Greek, teaching science and wandering through the high veldt, growing vegetables and coping with the terrible famine which was afflicting Zambia at that time. En route to Lusaka he stayed for a few days with friends in Nairobi. Out walking one afternoon he came across a beautiful building. It was surmounted with domes and crosses and surrounded with trees. He pushed at the door. Locked. He sat on the steps and watched as a tiny ant climbed the last rise and entered under the door. In the dappled sunshine he knew then that one day he too would be Orthodox. But like the ant a lot of work would need to be done first.

Returning to Britain, Philip entered an Anglican Seminary at Cuddesdon near Oxford for three years. Pascha came and he joined some other students at the church in Oxford. This was the first Liturgy he had attended. Archimandrite Kallistos (now Metropolitan Kallistos) was serving. Later he could remember an intense stillness, feeling relaxed, the words wafting over him, the breathless excitement of the “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!” and “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”

The day for ordination arrived and he became a curate in Kenton, near Harrow. This Anglican parish was entirely Roman Catholic in its expression. The people who came to Church and the other clergy were wonderfully loving, kind, thoughtful and faithful people who looked after their new curate with great care. Fr. Richard Brown encouraged his juniors to develop their skills and was always tolerant of mistakes. Generous, fun loving, wonderful company, thoughtful and staggeringly well read, Fr. Brown would be on his knees for Matins and Vespers well before time every day. Fr. Brown died in office of a brain tumour some years ago whilst still a young man. The senior curate, Fr. Richard Andrew, was also a very special priest. His humour, compassion and love for those in his care, his teaching skills and gentleness, his hours spent in prayer and the deep seriousness with which he celebrated the Mass meant that he was deeply loved. Fr. Andrew is now a Roman Catholic priest in a parish in Enfield Middlesex.

After three busy and joyful years he went to Exeter to be the Bishop of Exeter’s Chaplain and Chaplain for Vocations (helping those who felt that they were being called to the Anglican ordained ministry). Living in a cottage in the grounds of the Episcopal Palace, having some of the most beautiful surroundings in Europe about him, being loved almost as a son by the Bishop and doing two fascinating and highly rewarding jobs meant that he could hardly have been happier.

A year slipped by and August came. In August the Bishop went on holiday and potential ordinands soaked up the sun and forgot to think about their vocations. This meant that there was almost nothing to do after opening the Bishop’s post each day. Thinking time… … … the dappled sun playing on the walls of the bathroom told him that the time had come to try to find a way to become Orthodox. In no time an English priest was revealed and some time later a teaching job became available in Birmingham. Within months he was living in one of the most run down areas of Birmingham suffering regular burglaries (before long the house simply got turned over and nothing taken!).

Another Pascha arrived and with a candle in his hand he found himself being Chrismated with the name Edmund after the original Patron of England, the King and Martyr.

The glory of the Orthodox Church is that it is ordinary every day Christianity with nothing added and nothing taken away. There is so much to learn; it is in truth the store of the man who opens the doors to take out treasures both new and old. Those treasures never seem to diminish; there are lifetimes of things to discover and make one’s own. Moreover there are so many ways in which God can be served. The life on an Orthodox layperson is potentially so interesting and exciting, so full of surprise and the miraculous, that the newly enlightened can experience several lifetimes of new and wonderful things.

Edmund, as he then was known, began a new journey in which he was privileged to meet and learn from some inspired missionary priests and their congregations in England, Wales, Haiti and Guatemala. In Guatemala he became ill and returned to Britain much quieter than when he left! On the way home he looked out over the ocean. The moon danced on the waves and he prayed “Lord where do you want me to be? I would like to live in Lincolnshire.” Less than a year later he was ordained to serve the new community of St. Aethelheard in Louth, Lincolnshire by His Eminence Metropolitan GABRIEL of Central and Western Europe (Memory Eternal!)

After six years there another priest had been ordained who currently serves that community and Fr. Philip moved to become the priest at the newly forming parish of All Saints of Lincolnshire, Lincoln. That was in 2005. At his ordination he was given the name Philip after the Apostle. At that time, as well as being the Parish Priest, he taught at The Vale of Ancholme Technology and Music College (now an Academy). This is an 11 – 18 years mixed sex school and he taught science, and was head of religious education. As when he worked in Birmingham he was constantly delighted by the pupils (“students”) he taught and the freshness, enthusiasm and humour that most young people bring to their learning. Currently Fr. Philip continues to serve as the Parish Priest while at the same time holding down a demanding full-time job.

Father Philip has never lost his excitement with natural history. He loves gardening, especially attempting to raise tropical plants in the British climate… Had he the time and the space there would be an Ark full of plants and animals!

Fr Philip was awarded the honour of Archimandrite by Patriarch JOHN X of Antioch on Sunday 22nd June 2015 at the Patriarchal Monastery of Our Lady of Balamand, Lebanon.