The homecoming: a life-long journey of faith

Published on: 1 May 2018

The Venerable David Hayden describes his journey back to his roots in Oulton Broad and the faith that has formed the path.

Before a Priest is licensed, they sit in a pew near the front of the church before being placed in the priest’s stall by the Archdeacon. At St Michael’s Oulton on 25 February it was like that, but very different: as a boy, I sat in the same pew each week with my with my fruit gum on the book ledge ready for the sermon. At my licensing, I sat in that same pew. This time I managed without a fruit gum. It was also different as instead of installing a priest myself, as I did when I was Archdeacon of Norfolk, I was installed by my friend and former colleague Martin Gray.

Now I am back to doing what all good Vicars do. I have been ordained for forty-seven years and yesterday I had a ‘first’ when I was attacked by a mouse trap while helping a Churchwarden!

My calling for ordination came when I worshipped at St Michael’s and was tested when I was at Langley School near Loddon. Prefects got me out of my bed to go to their room where they ridiculed me for being a Christian. That made me determined to start a meeting each Sunday for those who wanted to know more and we even worshipped with the help of hymns on vinyl.

God’s calling and my identity in Christ have been shaped by this. My passion has always been to see people discover how much God loves them and to build up God’s people to grow together in their relationship with him and with each other. Now I long even more urgently that we reach out in love and service to our wider community.

My identity in Christ has also been shaped when life was especially hard. At a time when there were big issues to deal with when I was Vicar of Cromer, I suffered a panic attack while taking a funeral. For years this hit me hard at the very core of what a priest does and God did not seem to get the message that I had learned all I needed to learn! The day after retiring back to my roots in Oulton Broad, my wife Ruby discovered she had cancer. All our plans for retirement had to go but we knew God’s blessing through his people. Ruby died on a Saturday evening and the next morning I knew I must be with God’s people at St Mark’s. I didn’t stay for coffee!

Last October, I was appointed as Interim Priest in Charge of St Mark’s and St Luke’s Oulton Broad and now I have been given responsibility for St Michael’s to support and encourage all three churches and to help to prepare them for the time when they will work together with a new incumbent so that I can go back to a quiet retirement.

My godfather, Stanley Pert, was the Rector of St Michael’s, and my godmother was Rose Sturman who worshipped at St Michael’s and became a missionary in then Burma. My father was Churchwarden at St Michael’s for about 30 years and my mother was also very active in the church. I remember when she led Children’s Church on Sunday afternoons. The flannelgraph was the latest tech and one side of the church singing one line of a chorus and then the other side taking over for the next line was my favourite.

In 1960, after my five-year-old sister died from an operation on her tonsils, we moved from living above my father’s pharmacy to Church Lane. The house is only two hundred yards from St Michael’s. When I retired I moved there as I had an extension built and my daughter, with her family, lives in the original house.

I met my late wife, Ruby, through St Michael’s. We both sang in the choir and helped with the children’s and youth work. We were married there in 1968. Ruby’s parents and siblings also worshipped at St Michael’s. Ruby’s younger sister, Muriel, married a college friend of mine who is ordained and now retired to Oulton Broad. During the vacancy, he is helping to lead and preach at St Michael’s.

My elder brother, John, was also sent out from St Michael’s and he ended his full-time ministry as a Bishop in Tanzania and, in his retirement, he is now an Assistant Bishop based in the Wirral.

I came back to this Diocese as Vicar of Cromer in 1984 and then as Archdeacon of Norfolk until I retired in 2012.

When Ruby and I retired we worshipped at St Mark’s and St Luke’s as we were invited to support the ministry there. I owe a lot to those churches as they supported us through Ruby’s illness. I met my wife, Elisabeth, through those churches. We had both lost our spouses to cancer a few weeks from each other. We were put in touch and supported each other in our grief. In 2016 we were married in the company of our friends at St Mark’s and St Luke’s.

They have been so supportive of us and it is a privilege to serve them as Interim Priest in Charge, it is a great joy by the same token to support St Michael’s after my contact there for over seventy years. Both these positions are ‘for love’ and I am so pleased that this is possible because I couldn’t bear for an Archdeacon to tell me how many hours I must work!

My wife is joining in the fun and she is now Co-ordinator of Children and Youth at St Mark’s and St Luke’s and is going to do as much as she can to help St Michael’s especially, with lots of ‘specials’, which will be fun events for all ages and to get ourselves more involved in the wider community.

I have come back to my roots in more ways than one. Suffolk Wildlife Trust manages the marshes near our house and even nearer to St Michael’s. We love to go there and there is even a photo of me as a young boy on the marshes with St Michael’s in the background.

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Archdeacon Steven explores how our faith influences the way we look at ourselves and how others view us.


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