Revd Canon Brian Young
Canon Brian Young
29th January 1942 – 28th January 2016
Memorial and Thanksgiving service, 11th March 2016
Loveday Alexander (Brian’s curate)
‘For I am already on the point of being sacrificed: the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award me on that day, and not only to me but to all who love his appearing.’ 2 Timothy 4.6-8.
Brian — how on earth can I sum him up in a few words?
Brian was never tired of talking about this wonderful calling that we shared. That’s one of the things I learnt from him: a calling to ministry, to play a part in proclaiming God’s love to the world and making it a lived reality, is the most amazing privilege, and I shall always be grateful for the years I was able to share some of that with him.
So how to capture Brian’s story? Telling the outline is not too difficult:
But to get the real Brian flavour you have to tell the little stories, the encounters human and divine that made him the man he was — and the priest he was (which for Brian was basically the same thing). And that could take us all day! Brian loved jokes and stories — he was a master raconteur (could have made a living on the stage!) — and I’m sure we’ve all heard many of them (more than once!). I’m just going to select a few that seem to me to convey the essential Brian. (And I would encourage you — everyone who knew him and loved him — to share and treasure your stories of Brian in the years to come.)
BOLLINGTON AND MACCLESFIELD
How did he come to be born in Bollington? That’s a story in itself: his parents were Londoners (from Edmonton), evacuated in the war (his Dad worked for Friedland chimes). His pregnant Mum arrived at the farmhouse where she was billeted to be met with a stony stare and ‘I hope you’ve got yer coupons’. Welcome to Cheshire!
But Bollington gave him his love of the hills, where he used to roam with his dog. He showed me once the council house where he grew up — opposite the pub, the Cock and Pheasant, where his dad Tom was a popular pub musician. Brian used to treasure his dad’s fiddle — and he inherited his sense of humour as well as his musicality from his dad. (His parents met at a dance hall in London where his dad was playing in the band.) Peter Hunt remembers the two of them driving around Bollington in an open-topped Morris Minor like a couple of lads on the town.
But Brian’s home was also opposite St Oswald’s Church, where Brian took himself off at the age of six, and ‘met the Holy Spirit’ — at least that’s what he told his mum, and she never forgot it. He told me too, many years later — it was a deep and powerful experience, and the beginning of a lifelong love affair with God who was always a vivid and real presence in his life — right to the end.
He got his Dad to join the choir, and spent his teenage years playing the organ at St Oswald’s — alternating with high Catholic devotions at the Salesian College at Pott Shrigley, and film nights at the local Pentecostal youth club (the Pentecostals had the best films, he said) — the foundations of an enduring commitment to ecumenism.
The stories of Brian cycling around the hills, walking his dog (he always had a dog), evoke the wonderful freedom kids had in the 1950s — but in fact it was something of a miracle that Brian had such a free and happy childhood. He was born with a ‘TB hip’ (common in those days, especially in London) — he was ‘a poor doer,’ the midwife told his mum when he was born — and spent much of his first 3 years in the orthopaedic hospital in Staffordshire.
Children’s hospitals were very different in the 1940s — parents visited once a week. I always think it was a miracle in itself that Brian came out of that not only emotionally unscarred but with a positive talent for relating to people of all sorts and sizes (especially nurses!). He always knew how to make himself ‘at home’ in hospital, and had a special gift for hospital visiting. It also sowed the seeds of his rugged independence (“Me do it!”) — and forged a strong relationship with his dad when his mum in turn had to spend long periods in a TB sanatorium.
Eventually, Brian got a scholarship to King’s School Macclesfield — where his musical talents served him well in school productions (and where he made many lifelong friends). He always maintained he wasted his time at King’s, where he emerged with (his words) ‘two and half O Levels’ — and a place at the Northern College of Music (not yet ‘Royal’) to study voice and organ.
But God had other plans! It’s hard to imagine Brian being anything other than a parish priest — he inhabited the role so naturally — but it took quite a tussle to get him there. A tussle with himself — he was (as he told me) much more interested in playing the organ. And a tussle with the Bishop of Chester (not the present one! — it was Gerald Ellison then), who was not impressed with the two-and-a-half O levels, and sent him off to get some ‘life experience’ — which he did with great gusto. Three stories from Anna:
BECOMING A PRIEST
Finally, in the late 60’s he was accepted for ordination and began his training for the priesthood at Lincoln Theological College, after a few months in Durham studying philosophy and Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (both of which he loved). Also, I think, a spell at Kelham College — again to appease the Bishop’s anxieties about those O levels. At Lincoln he came into his own, and made wonderful friends (including our own Archdeacon Richard Gillings — and Jim Cotter, who later became Anna’s godfather).
But he also faced tragedy when his mum died suddenly. Brian never had a ‘sheltered’ life: the faith he shared with other people was forged on the anvil of personal experience.
And it was during this time that he was deputed to lead Sunday Evening Worship on various wards at Saint George’s Hospital Lincoln, including Stow Ward, which is where he met his wife Pamela who was Ward Sister.
In 1970 Brian was ordained in Newcastle Cathedral and served his title in Whitley Bay. He and Pam were married on the 5th June 1971 at the Church of Saint Peter in Eastgate Lincoln, and their first home was a small terraced house in Whitley Bay. It was here that they had their first and only child Anna on the 26th March 1972 – and after being told they could never have children this was both a surprise and a continual and lifelong delight.
In 1973 the family moved to Berwick-upon-Tweed for his second curacy, and then in 1977 Brian became Vicar of Great Broughton and Broughton Moor in West Cumbria.
VICAR OF ALDERLEY EDGE
It was in 1983 that Brian moved back to his home county of Cheshire to be Vicar of Alderley Edge, partly to be near his father. (It was Brian’s dad who spotted the advert.) At the time, Alderley Edge still had its Cottage Hospital, where Pamela became Sister. Brian told me he used to love it when people stopped him in the street and said, ‘You’re Sister Young’s husband, aren’t you?’
He took over St Philip’s at a time of transition
Brian launched the Restoration appeal, redecorated and reordered the church, got rid of the old dark-stained pews (actually he wanted to get rid of pews altogether), painted the rafters white — basically, left the church how you see it today. He organised pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Lindisfarne. He advertised for a verger and got Co Tod — who became a lifelong friend. He advertised for an organist and got Peter Spooner, with whom he had a long and happy association (though he still liked playing the organ himself — including the famous organ marathon). He joined the Mothers’ Union — and acquired Sam!
During his time at Alderley Edge Brian also became Rural Dean of Knutsford (1996-2006) . In this role he operated a very hands-on pastoral ministry for his fellow clergy and for the church wardens whenever one of his churches was ‘between vicars’ … He particularly enjoyed the opportunities for socializing across the Deanery, especially at the annual Christmas ‘do’ for the clergy, when Brian, Pam and Co between them took endless trouble transforming our parish rooms into a four-star restaurant. He was immensely pleased and proud when he was invited to become an Honorary Canon of Chester Cathedral (1997-2007), and loved being part of the worship of the Cathedral.
PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE
Forging relationships in the village community was just as important to him:
Above all building up relationships with people: ‘People are people are people,’ he used to say, whether in Whitley Bay or Broughton or Alderley Edge.
He never tired of saying what a privilege it was to be invited to share people’s joys and sorrows — weddings and baptisms (not necessarily in that order!), hospital visits and funerals. It’s not ‘There but for the grace of God’, he used to say, but ‘There with the grace of God go I’.
Two stories that encapsulate this for me:
BEING BRIAN’S CURATE
Being Brian’s curate was a wonderful apprenticeship in practical priesthood — the practice of the presence of God — deeply moving and enormous fun.
I tried to sum it up in a few bullet points when I was priested in 2000:
Probably the hardest thing Brian ever did was walking away from the parish he loved when he retired in 2007. He sadly lost Pamela a year after they moved to Sleaford — but found a new lease of life as part of the ministry team at St Denys’ Church. Especially enjoyed ministering in the village churches and schools — doing what he did best —made new friends among the neighbours and dog-walkers — and loved being able to entertain Anna and Richard and their two boys Theo and Elliot, who were very special to their Grandad.
When he retired, I gave him a newly-discovered ‘Epistle’ from Timothy, assistant curate in the church in Ephesus, addressed to ‘dear boss’. This is part of what it said:
You know and I know that what we call “active ministry” is only a part of God’s calling. It’s about discipleship: hearing the call of Jesus and leaving everything to follow Him wherever He leads. It’s about wanting “to know Christ, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” — in order to be transformed by his life. And that’s a calling (as you often used to say) that lasts from here to eternity.
I often thought of those words in Brian’s last years, and of St Paul’s words, ‘carrying about in my body the death of the Lord Jesus’ — necrosis, something Brian knew plenty about. But that never distracted him from the purpose of priesthood: ‘that the life of the Lord Jesus may be made manifest in you’
‘I KNOW BRIAN’
Brian struck up a rapport with a succession of vagrants who used to sleep in our North Porch — one of whom used to turn up at neighbouring churches with a knowing grin: ‘I know Brian!’ I suspect there will be a lot of people turning up at the pearly gates saying hopefully ‘I know Brian!’
But for Brian it wasn’t really about himself at all — as we can see from the hymns he chose for his funeral service. ‘All my hope on God is founded’ — his final words.
It was that faith that sustained him in his last years — with the same fierce independence, the same battling spirit, the same determination to look on the bright side (the same old jokes!) — always sustained by friends and family (and a glass of red wine).
For him, death was just the last stage on the journey, the final act in that love affair with God that had driven him ever since he was six years old. It was the open door at the end of the road, the welcoming hands, and the voice of the Master he had followed all his life, saying ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.’ And (I’m absolutely sure) the trumpets sounded for him on the other side...