Walking on pilgrimage in the midlands of England in 2019, I experienced considerable difficulty as I made my way on the border of the counties of Shropshire and Staffordshire; approaching the historic village of Tong, my route was affected by some flooding.
Even though the weather the previous few days had seemed quite good, a section of about 25 metres of the bridle path I was following was under water as the course it took went into a slight dip. With no reasonable alternative available without a very lengthy detour, I decided I would have to take off my boots, lace them together and sling them around my neck and then, with my trousers rolled up, make my way through this unexpected obstacle.
However, after walking about ten or fifteen metres in this fashion with the muddy silt squelching between my toes and the water proving to be easily up to my knees, the path fortunately widened a little with a narrow, raised bank bounded by a hedgerow appearing on each side. Concerned that I might fall over in the flood water as the ground beneath my feet was so unstable and sodden, I decided to try and get myself up onto the bank and the relative safety it seemed to offer.
But I soon realised that its steep side and my very uncertain footing meant that I would need to take off my heavy back pack and, with a good shove, push it up ahead of me together with my walking pole. Only once I had reduced the weight I was carrying would I be able to haul myself up onto the bank.
Fortunately, this manoeuvre was successful and I managed to get myself and all my kit safely up onto what was little more than a narrow ledge. There, I roughly dried my feet, put my socks and boots back on and was able to make it out of the flooded area and into the village.
Arriving at the local church, I soon saw that there were lots of interesting things to make for a very worthwhile visit, so I decided to sit on a bench in the churchyard and eat my modest pilgrim lunch before having a proper look around.
It was at that moment that I became aware that a lady clergyperson had appeared as if from nowhere and that she was looking at me from a distance of just a few yards. Welcoming me to eat my bread and cheese, she mentioned that she had noticed that I had briefly gone into the church. Having told me a little of its history, she encouraged me to go back inside when I had finished.
But I was completely distracted because she was like no-one I had ever seen before in that she was dressed in a splendid, scarlet cassock, the long robe worn by Anglican clerics.
I simply couldn’t resist asking this almost seraphic figure why she was wearing such a wonderful, bright red garment. Her answer was that she had been a Queen’s Chaplain and, although she was now retired from that role and was currently the minister in charge at St Bartholomew’s in Tong, she was entitled to continue to wear the traditional style of dress.
I have often dwelt on the contrast between the two of us that day-me, the rather bedraggled pilgrim who had just waded through the flooded lane and the kindly lady in the elegant robe. But, dressed in my practical long-distance walking attire (I had been on the road about three weeks at this point), I received nothing but gracious gentleness from someone who had ministered to the Queen herself, whose Platinum Jubilee and extraordinarily long reign we are now celebrating.
Having done some research I have discovered that Queen’s Chaplains are appointed by the monarch to preach in front of her at royal chapels and churches and to sometimes take part in formal state occasions or to lead services at significant national events. The role has existed for nearly 600 years.
Like most of us, I have never met the Queen and I suppose it’s unlikely now that I will do so. But I have met one of her Chaplains and, for just a few minutes, she was my Chaplain too!