Sunday, July 30, 2017

C. S. Lewis as a Parishioner

[Ronald Head pastored the church Jack and Warnie Lewis attended.]

My parishioners knew little about them [Jack and Warnie] and had no idea who they were. They looked like countrymen, walked abound in old clothes, smoking pipes, visiting public houses, and fitted in happily with the local scene. Their conversation sparkled, and seemed to deal with any subject with equal brilliance. 

It was during the period of the 1939 War that the Professor [C. S. Lewis]–already known widely for The Screwtape Letters–became famous as a Christian apologist on account of his broadcast talks and lectures to the Forces, leading up to the publication of Mere Christianity and other works of that kind. As far as I can tell, this fact remained unknown to the great majority of the faithful at Quarry, or they entirely failed to realize that this brilliant expositor was the man sitting concealed by a pillar in the aisle. My parishioners in general, at the time, had not read either the science fiction, Out of the Silent Planet, or the children's stories. There were, of course, some, like Miss Griggs and Mrs Barnes-Griggs at Tewsfield, who had read everything; but they were quite exceptional.

C. S. Lewis–who, as I have said, became know to his intimates as Jack–usually arrived early to Church services, and would sit there quietly reading the Psalms or other parts of the Prayer Book…I've often though that Meditations on the Psalms in some respects occurred in my church…Letters to Malcolm, number 21, reports on an actual conversation on prayer with me.

In July 1963 the Professor was seriously ill indeed in the Acland Home and the Radcliffe Informatory. Father Hooper took me down to Keble to confer with Dr Farrer in these moments of crisis. It was not possible to get the Major [Warnie] back; he also was in the hospital. Happily, the Professor–after being anointed by Father Michael Watts, the Precentor of the Cathedral–recovered, and in time returned to The Kilns with a male nurse temporarily and Walter Hooper permanently added to the household. 

Lewis's heart attack, and its complications, led to his resignation from the Cambridge professorship. I then began communicating him at home on a fortnightly basis–which situation continued until his death. In the nature of the case there was a period when I had long conversations with the Professor–covering, of course, the usual field of spiritual matters…

He was a very humble man, self-effacing, never speaking of his remarkable talents, or his service to other people. One cold note his care in answering letters…Of course I remember his generosity in giving money away; not, I believe, so much to institutions, but rather to individuals he could help…scholars, clergy, all sorts of people. Ronald Head, "C. S. Lewis the Parishioner." Roger White, Judith Wolfe, & Brendan Wolfe, C. S. Lewis and His Circle: Essays and Memoirs from the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society (Oxford University Press 2015), 180-85. 

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