50 years as a Priest

When 15-year-old Bernard Gribbin left his native Bradford in 1951 to begin a catering course at Westminster Technical College his future seemed mapped out: qualification as a chef after the obligatory interruption of two years' National Service, followed by a career in catering. A spell as assistant chef at the famed London Ritz strengthened his belief that his dreams would come true. Then, shortly before his demobilisation aged 20, a chance meeting in Glasgow with a fellow officer in the Army Catering Corps triggered a change of direction. Learning of his Christian commitment, his new acquaintance suggested that he become a priest.

Fr Bernard, who celebrates his priestly Golden Jubilee on December 18, recalls: “I pointed out that I could hardly pursue a religious vocation because my educational qualifications fell below requirements. After all, I hadn't even a GCE to my name and although I hadn't given much thought to the subject I believed a degree was a must. Reassurance was quickly forthcoming. My friend explained that it wasn't necessary to have been to a university to study to become a priest in the Church of England.” The die was cast.

He explains that although his family had no formal religion, his parents, particularly his mother – his father was in the Forces during the war – encouraged him when he became a choir boy at the nearby Manningham Church at the age of six. “I suppose the seeds of my interest in religion and spirituality were sown in the choir stalls down the years,” he says. “Sunday services were the highlight of my week. Still are. And playing the organ at St. Margaret's during the week, usually when there's no-one else around, is a hobby which gives me tremendous satisfaction and lifts my spirits.”

Fr. Bernard's love of music made him ideal for the role of Precentor and Chaplain (choral) during his time at Chester Cathedral (1986-91) following a seven-year spell as full-time Christian Stewardship Adviser for Bradford Diocese. It was at Chester that he was elevated to Canon.

He speaks affectionately of his early post-ordination years when he was Vicar of Denholme from 1965-71. “At a 1000ft above sea level the village is the highest in the Bradford Diocese and the vicarage was the coldest. Thankfully my parishioners were very supportive, lovely people, but it was my wife Betty and our two young sons who really made life bearable.”

Ah, Betty! Their long romance began in the early sixties at Busbys department store in their native Bradford – he a theological student working as a part-time chef, she a hairdressing assistant. Years later, and with last year's golden wedding celebrations safely in the memory bank, Bernard enthusiastically acknowledges his wife's help in his ministry. “Like most vicar's wives she worked unstintingly for whichever parish we were in. Once it was known that she had a teaching background a local headmaster would recruit her. And besides coping with family duties she threw herself into various parochial activities. For instance, in 1966 she formed the Young Wives' Fellowship which is still going strong.”

After serving at Addingham during an interregnum, he began his association with St. Margaret's when he retired in 1996. And, no doubt like all the numerous priests who have served here in their later years, making a mockery of the word 'retirement', Fr. Bernard feels privileged to continue his ministry by defying the clock.

Mike Casey

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