I looked again at the image of our church
spire painted on hardboard and attached to the outer wall of St
Basils. The red infilling that marked the progress of the
restoration appeal had remained for months at around five
thousand pounds. The target of one hundred thousand pounds, as
our church contribution towards the necessary repairs, seemed an
The good ladies of the church had devoted
themselves tirelessly to coffee mornings and cake sales, but
their rate of income generation was simply too low.
My first idea to enhance that income
occurred during a day trip to Calais. I realised that it was
possible to buy significant quantities of cheap cigarettes and
alcohol that could then be quietly sold at a profit, with the
proceeds directed to the Spire Appeal.
The crypt at midnight on Fridays soon
became better attended than Sunday services, and the event turned
into quite a social gathering. People would sit and chat while
consuming some of their purchases. Some would start poker games -
which gave me the idea for a new source of funds for the spire.
As poker and other forms of gambling increased, I asked that ten
percent of winnings be donated to the church.
The red paint line on the hardboard spire
rose steadily, and within a year had reached the ninety thousand
It was only then I re-read the conditions
placed on the church by the Diocese for their contribution to the
repairs. They had pledged to add one hundred thousand pounds when
the church had raised one hundred thousand pounds. This would
make the two hundred thousand pounds needed for the work. There
was a time limit, however, and, with horror, I noted that our
remaining ten thousand pounds had to be raised within two months.
Being closely involved with St Basils
allowed me to be party to much confidential information. In
particular, the sinful activities of Mrs Stevenson, Mrs Parker,
Mrs Fotescue-Smyth and several others who were conducting
adulterous liaisons of which their husbands were unaware. Their
desire to see the spire repaired linked with their desire for
their extra-marital activities to remain undiscovered, led them
to generously offer some expansion of their favours to men in
surrounding villages. The income from this and from secrecy
insurance payments from men in surrounding villages
resulted in the deadline being met. We now have a wonderfully
restored spire to the glory of God.
It was some months later when the Bishop
summoned me to his office. He had heard of the fund-raising
activities of the church and confronted me with the question of
whether, as vicar of St Basils, I had really believed it to
be appropriate to fund church repairs from the proceeds of
cigarettes, alcohol, gambling, prostitution and blackmail.
When he put it like that, it made me
reconsider deeply whether our Lord would have approved. I was
forced to conclude that he probably would have not.
The Bishop, however, accepted my repentance
and granted me forgiveness. He also greatly honoured me by
putting me in charge of fund-raising for the Cathedral roof....