Reverend Michael Macey once had to tell the Queen to sit down. It was the day of the Royal Wedding. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate, were getting married. As a Minor Cannon at Westminster Abbey, he was instrumental in writing and organising the service. One of his many jobs on the day was to lead the wedding party (the Middleton’s, the Prince’s, Camilla) through to sign the marriage register. The Queen was still standing up though. If she didn’t sit down then none of the 1,900 congregation would sit down, then there would be a pregnant pause. With two billion people watching the wedding in 180 countries, it would have looked quite awkward. “I said ‘Your Majesty, would you please be seated,’ at which point I think she thought who is this little oik, but she did sit down and I was able to lead (the wedding party) through to sign the register”.
He was involved in the organisation of some big televised events.
Mike, as he tends to be known (“Michael is my mum shouting at me,” he says) is the Anglican vicar for the Parish of Boxmoor. This includes the churches of St. John’s, St. Stephen’s and St. Francis’. His role now is very different from his previous position at Westminster Abbey. At the Abbey he was involved in the organisation of some big televised events; the royal wedding as described above; the Battle of Britain commemorative service; the Commonwealth Day service; the Christmas Day services. But Westminster Abbey’s reputation as a major tourist attraction meant the majority of the congregation consisted of one-off visitors. With such a transient congregation, Mike says, “you have no idea how you are helping or touching that person.”
In contrast, here in Boxmoor, his congregation is very stable. They see him as part of their family. He knows their history and supports them through the good and the bad. He knows their pains and he knows their joys. He visits schools, deals with financial matters, chairs the governing body for the parish and conducts services in the different churches. He is also always available to his congregation, even if that means being woken up at 3am. He assures me that people don’t tend to wake him up in the middle of the night with a faith question, most of those questions come through on the email. “In my dad’s vicarage the phone was going all the time, now my inbox is going all the time”. But someone may be in hospital or on their death bed, so he could be called in the early hours. “It’s a very privileged role. You get to walk with people at all times in their lives, so there are many wonderful moments, even when it’s really difficult”.
At the age of six he was bullied at school because his dad was a vicar.
Mike didn’t always want to be a vicar. At the age of six he was bullied at school because his dad was a vicar. “They threw stones at me,” he says. On that playground he vowed never to become a vicar. As he got older though, he started to explore the idea and went off to Exeter University to study theology. But university wasn’t all plain sailing. “I went off the rails a bit, relationships were going sour, grades were falling and I just wasn’t the person I wanted to be, and during that time I wasn’t going to church and I wasn’t praying”. But something in him made him go back to church. He remembers vividly that it was Ash Wednesday when he went along to Exeter Cathedral. “I just felt the Cathedral kind of wrap it’s arms around me and say, ‘this is where you belong’”.
Since deciding on his path on that Ash Wednesday, it would be too simplistic to say that Mike hasn’t has the odd wobble about the life he has chosen. Doesn’t everyone have the odd wobble about their own path though? I remember as a new parent, when I had been up and down all night, feeding a screaming baby, I wondered what on earth possessed me to become a parent. And Mike doesn’t see theology as answering all of life’s questions either. “There are still questions I don’t have answers to. The problem of evil… Why is there evil in the world? Why do bad things happen to good people?”.
Whilst I can’t see many celebrities flocking to be married at St. John’s, I note five time olympic medalist Max Whitlock, who trained literally across the road, didn’t come back to Boxmoor to tie the knot, to Mike it doesn’t matter. He is the sort of person who treats everyone the same, wherever their standing is on the social ladder, whatever money they have or don’t have, or whatever their faith is. For two years he use to pray every morning with a Hindu man who would come to St. John’s for the morning prayer. Strangers and his congregation alike will stop Mike in the street to talk with him. One passer-by was particularly impressed with his cassock. ‘Cool coat,’ he said. “It looks a but matrixy I suppose,” jokes Mike. “I wasn’t wearing the shades at the time”.
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