I'm a firm believer that when people with a great story to tell make that story available to you, you should listen. Over the years I've heard Gordon Banks tell how he got into goalkeeping by being tall and just happening to be at a bus stop next to a football pitch upon which one team was short of a goalie. I've heard Frank Dick tell the story of how he guided Daley Thompson to his Olympic glories, I've heard two ordinary women who work for a bank tell the story of how they rowed across the Atlantic Ocean and I've heard Norman Whiteside tell the story of what it felt like to be the youngest player ever to appear at a World Cup. There are more to add to the list, some famous, some not and last night I added another to the roll.
Tucked between Chorley and Leyland in Lancashire you will find a very new, rather small and quite pleasant place called Buckshaw Village. A place where around 4,000 people have made their homes and the place I found myself on a blustery Friday night in September. There, in a community centre that serves as the local church, I had the pleasure of hearing Dr John Sentamu speak.
Who? Maybe the name Dr John Sentamu isn't one you are familiar with, I wasn't until two weeks ago but I was aware of his job (I just didn't know he was the one doing it). You've heard of the Archbishop of York? That's John Sentamu.
Now, don't run off...this isn't a tale of epiphanies and a glorious awakening and there is a bit right at the end for the tattooed folk out there.
It's not everyday you see the Archbishop of York in a community centre built on the sight of the old Royal Ordinance Factory so I went, partly to accompany my girlfriend and partly because...well, it's the Archbishop of York. Not being the religious type myself, I had that fish out of water feeling you get when you are a fish and you aren't in water and what followed was utterly surreal.
I hadn't expected proceedings to begin with a Parkinson style interview about music. It came as little surprise that the good doctor isn't a fan of Heavy Metal I just hadn't expected that to be a topic of conversation and I hadn't expected things to be so....well, laid back. I hadn't expect HIM to be so laid back. Where was the incense? Where was the prepubescent choir? No talking in Latin?? What on earth is this??
Moving on from music he told of his life in Uganda under Idi Amin (You've heard of him, right? Big bloke, a bit on the irritable side, fond of a uniform), how he found faith and how he was tortured and expected to die. Then he did a drum solo.
The floor was opened up to questions and one lady was thrown out of the room in response to hers. OK, so he let her back in, he was illustrating a point. Then he gave her a lesson in playing the drums.
I sat, at the back of course, utterly stunned. This was not how I envisaged an Archbishop.
After an hour so of this incredibly funny and inspirational man's speaking my mind was, to be quite honest, blown. Not just by what he said but by what he did; drums, temporary evictions, the lot. Oh and then there's his voice....if Morgan Freeman was Ugandan, he'd sound like John Sentamu.
Before we left, my girlfriend decided (being as much in the "Believe" camp as I am in the "I'm not so sure" camp) to go to him for a blessing, getting blessed by an Archbishop is a big thing you know. With a little coaxing I went with her, not for a blessing but I needed to see this guy up close. He found my lack of faith genuinely amusing, he didn't mock me, deride me or shun me and just speak to the faithful...he cracked up at my protestations, he suggested a career as a stand up comedian and then told me a joke about the difference between Jehovah's Witnesses and Skodas.
I could feel myself sweating, I was being dismantled with the kind of ease you usually see reserved for five piece jigsaws. My head was now mashed but not so mashed that I didn't seize the opportunity to ask about the God vs Tattoos debate. Having seen so many posts and comments on the internet saying how tattoos are sinful and how Leviticus says...blah blah blah, I had to ask one of the most prominent religious figures on the planet what he thought, well you would, wouldn't you?
The man just looked at me funny, as if I'd just asked the most ridiculous thing ever and said, "God takes you as you are". That was it. No clarification, no expanding on his point. Just that and as far as I'm concerned, that is that.
In future, whenever a Christian tells me how sinful my ink is, I will no longer need to explain myself, no longer have to contradict the Bible, I will simply say, "Really? Well the Archbishop of York said....".