Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Professor Stephen Hawking

As tributes pour in from around the world to this extraordinary scientist and human being I need to add my two pennyworth.  And it all seems so unlikely.  One Sunday evening in the late 80's the church service at St. Andrew's St. Baptist had begun at 6:30.  I had already preached at our main morning service which was well-attended.  The evening service was (much) sparser.  We had been going about 15 minutes when the disabled entrance opened where the ramp led into the church and to my astonishment Stephen Hawking was wheeled in.  Of course, all attention swiveled in his direction.  One of the famous figures in Cambridge with his book A Brief History of Time a best seller. .. everyone knew who he was.

I think the sermon was from Amos - not the brightest moment I have to say.  Afterwards I greeted him thinking it was all a mistake on his part.  You can imagine my surprise when shortly afterwards he came to a morning service and in the coffee time afterwards engaged with all and sundry, especially the children who wanted to play his synthesizer.   And for a couple of years we became (sort of) used to this celebrity arriving irregularly in our midst.

I asked his nurse whether he really wanted to come.  She laughed and said: 'Stephen has never done anything he didn't want to do!' and she added 'He sometimes talks about your sermons several days later.'  When I visited his home I experienced what so many have spoken about - the strangeness of speaking and then having to wait until the synthesizer responded. When I told him that I found his book difficult to read he said I could skip it all but the last chapter.  There was humour and concern - he really wanted to know about my own disabling dystonia that had crippled me just a year or two before. 

I did pray with him before I left and saw him many times afterwards.  Of course there are so many questions about what this cosmologist ultimately believed that will not be answered this side of glory. But I was profoundly humbled to have had even this brief experience of a great mind and personality.

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