Retirement

We are all encouraged to plan for our retirement and to find the answers to those questions – where we will live, how we will continue to afford doing the things we like to do, how will we use the spare time we will now have (though retriees tell me that spare time is a fantasy!), that kind of thing. For those of us who have been full-time in ministry in the church one of the real issues is where we are going to live.

It is a joy – mostly – living in a ‘tied cottage’ but it comes at a price at the end.  I have lived in some lovely ‘cottages’ over the last 36 years – a nice semi in suburban Leeds, a flat in a Victorian clergy house in inner-city Leeds, a seventies vicarage just off a main arterial road in that city, a large detached property north of Croydon, a Georgian townhouse off the Elephant and Castle, and now in the Deanery, William & Mary, amazing location, views to die for, parking, a double garage, a garden and all overlooking the Thames!  I have been blessed.  But as I get older at the back of my mind I do keep thinking, ‘Where will I live when I retire?’

I had planned to tell you something about the few days that I spent in Bulgaria and in Sofia in particular, but all that can wait.  Something more important happened last week.

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Doorkins at home © Bridget Davey

We had been aware for a few weeks that Doorkins, the Southwark Cathedral cat, was not as well as she had been.  She was still finding numerous places to sleep, she was still eating, but there was something not quite right.  It has been one of the many responsibilities of the vergers at the Cathedral – that wonderful team that keep the whole place functioning – to look after her from opening to closing the cathedral.  They said to me that they thought she was deaf and that they thought she was also losing her sight.  We monitored her.  She no longer responded when I called her when I arrived for my prayers in the morning.  Her food bowls were put close to where she was rather than expecting her to find them where they normally were (regular visitors will have noticed food bowls in bizarre places).  But last weekend it came to a head.

During a Saturday day conference with the place full of people Doorkins did her usual trick of coming out to see what was going on and instead couldn’t see the edge of the steps on the tower space and tumbled down one of them.  It was clearly no longer a safe space for her to be in – sharp corners, steps, hundreds of people moving around. Something had to be done for her sake.

So the vergers took her to the vet and the vet confirmed that she couldn’t hear and now couldn’t see.  She needed a more comfortable and safer place to retire to.  Like the clergy she had been in a tied-cottage for all these years, hers just happened to be a 13th century cathedral! One of the vergers came to the rescue.  She could live with them in their tied cottage (yes vergers get the same treatment at Southwark).  So with a mixture of great sadness but relief for her, Doorkins packed her bowls and cushions and left.

The place seems empty.

With Doorkins being such a media personality the news quickly spread and I needed to make a statement.  This is what I have said.

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Installed! © Bridget Davey

‘When Doorkins arrived at the Cathedral back in 2008 we didn’t know her name, we didn’t even know she was a ‘she’; she was just a little cat, without a home.  Through the kindness of the vergers she found her way in, enjoyed the food and the warmth and, eventually she made her home with us.  When our former Dean, Colin Slee, died she spent his final night beneath his coffin, she met the Queen (though slept through the experience), she had a book produced about her and over time became a Twitter celebrity.  She was out of the Cathedral when the terrorist attack happened in 2017 and when, finally, she got back into the church, her home, she never left again.  We have come to know her and she has come to know us and the thousands of people who have made friends with her, people who love her.  Over the last few months we have noticed that she has not been so well.  Her hearing and her sight have deteriorated and that came to a head last weekend.  She can no longer find her way around and what was her place of comfort and safety became hazardous and this was confirmed for us when went to see the vet last week who told us that old age has caught up with her.  So she has retired and moved to her retirement home, with one of the vergers, where she is warm and safe and being pampered, just what she deserves.  We will continue to hear news of her.  But at this point I simply want to thank her on all our behalves.  She has become the feline face of Southwark Cathedral, a symbol for many of our openness, our inclusiveness, our hospitality and our humanity.  She is still part of the family but now taking a well-deserved rest.’

The public response since her retirement has been made known has been so full of compassion for her, people have been crying, on the phone, in the cathedral, because she has had to move out and they won’t see her any more around the place.  I can understand all of that.  I was never brought up with a cat or a dog in the house, I had a white mouse called Snowy, some fairground goldfish and my sister had a Cockatiel called Beauty.  That was the extent of our life with pets.  But having shared the cathedral with Doorkins for these eleven years, having had the joy of seeing her in all the places and situations in which she has found herself, I feel her absence as much as any one else.  But this is not her obituary, this is the notice of her retirement and like each of us she deserves a good place in which to retire – and she has got that.

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Occupying the best seat in the house

St Francis of Assisi recognised in the created world around him, in the creatures which he encountered on the paths he walked, something of the nature of God. His ‘Canticle of Creation’ is beautiful and we sing versions of it all the time.

All creatures of our God and King, 
lift up your voice and with us sing 
alleluia, alleluia! 

But the final verse I sing with Doorkins in mind.

Let all things their Creator bless,
and worship him in humbleness,
O praise him, alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
and praise the Spirit, three in one. 
O praise him, O praise him, 
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

She has been with us for all our worship, sharing our life, tabernacling in God’s house, her creator as much as mine.  And she has given so much to so many, simply by being a little cat in a sacred place.  If she has meant something special to you then we are delighted and God must be delighted too!

God of hearth and home,
may we each,
created and loved,
find the place of comfort and safety
where we can rest well.
Amen.

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