The Rev. Susan McKenzie had not realised when she first took on the Parish of St. Trillo and St. George, Rhos-on-Sea that she would also have responsibility for a third church, the little chapel that sits on the seashore just below the road to Penrhyn Bay. But when she learned that she was now the custodian to an ancient stone church originally founded by a hermit saint way back in the 6th century, she felt rather pleased and inspired by it: to think that she, the daughter of a Geography teacher, was now the latest link in a chain of faith stretching way back into the Dark Ages when the mysterious St. Trillo first sailed his boat across from Brittany to convert the heathen Welsh. And so it was that when the ageing churchwarden Mick Warren hinted that it was a bit of an effort for him to have to head out in all weathers to lock the chapel up each evening at dusk, she eagerly volunteered to take over the task justifying her decision with the words, “I take Rosie for her walk that way anyhow” even if this was not always strictly true.
It was only two weeks after she had taken over the duty however, when she entered the tiny church to find a bearded man in there with a sleeping bag stretched out in a corner, evidently not intent on using the holy space for the purpose of prayer alone.
“Can I help you?” she asked, warily eyeing the bottle of White Lightning standing on the chair next to him.
“Erm, yes, err… Reverend, aye, maybe you can you know,” he replied, holding out his hand. “Captain Bob Marley at your service,” he announced smiling and then adding, as if to clarify matters, “like the singer: ‘No Woman No Cry’; ‘Redemption Song’; ‘Three Little Birds’.”
“Nice to meet you, Captain,” she replied, taking his rather grubby and gnarled paw in hers.
“Thing is Madam Reverend like, would it be fine if I kipped down in here for the night?”
Immediately Susan began to think of the insurance policy, the White Lightning and the state that the Holy House might be left in if she acceded to his request. “I’m sorry Captain,” she replied, “but I’m afraid that we’re not allowed to leave the chapel unlocked at night.” She paused, looked at him and then added for clarity: “The insurance.”
“Quite understand,” he replied, “you don’t know who’s about; all kinds of dodgy characters round here. Anyway, no problem: you can lock me in. That’s what Rev. David used to do.”
The Rev. David Evans had not been Susan’s predecessor nor the incumbent before that. He’d retired in 1982.
“I’m sorry,” she replied, “but I can’t do that. It’s a fire hazard. I’m afraid I’m ging to have to ask you to leave.”
“No problem, I get you. I’ll find somewhere else. God be with you Reverend!” he said before picking up his sleeping bag and cider and exiting through the narrow door.
“And also with you Captain,” she replied but he was off, walking towards Llandudno singing, “Old pirates, yes, they rob I, Sold I to the merchant ships. Minutes after they took I, from the bottomless pit…”
When she got back to the rectory Mick Warren popped in to talk about the funeral scheduled for the next day. She told him about Bob Marley.
“Captain Bob, aye, everyone round here knows him. Been sleeping rough for years. Got an issue with alcohol and” – and here the churchwarden’s voice lowered into a whisper – “he’s a druggie as well. Needles. You did the right thing in kicking him out.
Thinking of the insurance policy and the fire safety procedures, Susan knew that she had.
She did not know what time it was that she woke that night. All she knew was that it was dark and she was not alone. Someone else was in the room! Warily she sat up in bed and surveyed the figure standing at the foot of her bed. It was surrounded by light and it was someone that she knew very well, her closest friend in all the world. “Be not afraid,” said Jesus Christ her Saviour.
“Lord!” she whispered in both fright and joy.
“For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me…”
And as she watched the Messiah’s face morphed slowly into the bearded, grinning visage of Captain Bob Marley and she realised.
Susan went down to the chapel every evening from then on to welcome Captain Bob and invite him to stay the night in the House of God.
But he never came.