One of the pleasant tasks I have set myself has been to visit every church and pub in the constituency. Moral refreshment is complemented by physical refreshment. Faster progress is being made with the pubs than the churches, principally because they are open for business more often. (I only go to a Church when there is a service – usually on a Sunday. The pubs hold their services twice a day.) About five churches remain on the list, including one in Tadley that has just closed for the winter.
Visiting the churches has been a great experience – I have been struck by the enormous variety of size, design and type of service. The churches are, by and large, in good shape with high attendance and enthusiastic clergy.
I visited my first church in the constituency nearly five years ago, when I was Secretary of State for Transport. I sat discreetly at the back behind a pillar. The Vicar chose as his text two passages that related to roadbuilding “ Prepare ye the way of the Lord” and “Make straight His path.” I looked down at my feet, while the Vicar addressed himself to the moral issues raised by the building of the Newbury Bypass, one of my then Department’s more controversial civil engineering projects. The Vicar made it clear that it was constructed on dubious moral foundations. While he did not carry all his audience with him – most had come to church on four wheels – it was an impressive performance.
At the end of the service, we queued up to pay our respects to the Vicar. The Churchwarden ahead of me in the queue asked the Vicar, whether he knew, when he drafted his address, that it would be listened to with interest by the Secretary of State for Transport. The colour drained temporarily from the cleric’s face. “No” he confessed. However, recovering quickly he added “But the Almighty did.”