The Wisdom of Tony Wheeler

Lucy Connelly's picture
Tony Wheeler, as drawn by his great-niece Kitty, in 2013

I read with sadness of the death of the Revd Tony Wheeler, whose funeral is on Friday 7 September 2018.

When I first started working on the Dorchester Benefice Magazine in June 2012, I didn't know Tony, but I did enjoy reading the articles which he would regularly submit to the magazine.

Then in August 2013 Tony celebrated his 90th birthday, and as part of the celebrations the Magazine printed the above drawing of Tony done by his (then) 13-year-old great-niece Kitty. A few weeks later I was at a church function and met Tony for the first time, and immediately recognised him from the drawing!

To read Tony's articles in back issues of the Magazine, click on the links below. Each link will open a PDF file containing the whole magazine - searching within the file for "wheeler" will take you to the article.

Here are some quotes from some of my favourites.

The Good Shepherd - June 2012

There was this tourist to Israel who was horrified. He met a flock of sheep but the shepherd wasn't leading them like the Bible said, he was driving them up the road from behind.

“Hey,” he said to the guide. “Look at that! Our Vicar said that in the Holy Land shepherds lead the sheep, not drive them.”

“So they do. Always. Here, let's have a look”.

The guide was greatly relieved. “Oh. That's how it is. That‟s not a shepherd, that's the butcher.”

Humility - October 2012

A humble person`s eyes are always open towards other people. They are not obsessed by themselves. They are not envious, but pleased by the happiness or success of others. They “rejoice with those that do rejoice, and weep with those who weep”, as the Bible says. They are not threatening, they are helpful and consequently our Lord can work through them.

You can see why Jesus said that such people already have the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is the perfect society. It is for this life. We do not need to wait for heaven to have it – if we are humble. Humble people are in the kingdom of heaven already.

Where There’s a Will... - November 2012

A will is not the only thing that should concern us about our death. Death is a journey that all of us must make. The most important that any of us will make. Would you go on even a holiday without packing? Yet these days most of us, even Christians, are so terrified by the prospect of death that we bury our heads in the sand like an ostrich, leave our unprotected posteriors to what may come and refuse even to hope for the best. We just do not wish to know.

Fairly obvious considerations:

Forgiveness. Is there anyone you have not forgiven for injuries real or perceived? Jesus was quite firm about this. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. No forgiveness for them means no forgiveness for us. Jesus said this lots of times. Forgiveness can be so hard that it seems impossible. In fact it is not. There is no room to go into this now. If you need to, please ask someone.

Prayers. It is a good idea if you are to stay with someone for a long time – such as for ever — that you take pains to get to know him. I am sure we all do this already, but I just mention it. Most of us are the better for some guidance with that too.

My Calling's Snare - April 2013

I have long been retired, but retirement is from my appointment as a Vicar of Dorchester. There is and can be no retirement from being a priest. It is a life sentence, but for me a happy one. I am glad to have been called by God in the first place, glad that it is permanent, glad that I shall keep the priesthood to my dying day and some say beyond it. “Thank you, Lord”.

Simplicity - October 2013

Godly simplicity is speaking the truth so that others can understand it. To do that you need three things:

1. You mustn`t keep striving for effect. Stop feeling so wonderful. In fact, stop thinking about yourself at all. It doesn`t matter what people think of you. You are here to explain a truth! Or a duty.

2. It helps if you know what the truth is. Make sure you do as far as possible

3. You need to love people. That doesn`t mean you wish to cuddle them, though you can if it is appropriate. It means you have a settled desire for their good.

If you can do this you will do well.

Institutional Horridness - December 2013

The human race has always been in the soup if God doesn`t rescue us. He usually does. You and I are Christians so we can give him a hand. We can love people more, help when appropriate – and be more practical about it. We can like people more, too. And chat to them. That`s just as important. We can make them laugh. It all helps for happiness. AND if we do happen to have some money, we can give a reasonable amount of it away. That last, I may say, is not virtue but self defence. There is no known specific against avarice except giving some of it away. I'm sorry about this but it is so.

Prophesy - April 2014

We were all delighted and encouraged when our new Archbishop sauced the moneylenders for charging ridiculous rates of interest on loans. Remember?

We were happy when the new Archbishop of Westminster sauced the Government for grinding the faces of the poor by introducing grossly unfair alterations to social benefits. The Pope heartily agreed with us.

“What has got into our leaders”, we thought. “They have abandoned vague piety and said things that needed saying.”

A Satisfied Customer - June 2014

When I was younger and even more foolish, a couple turned up in Church and asked for help. “We’ve got a ghost.” The ghost was his late wife, an alcoholic. “We can`t make love,” they told me. “She comes and stands at the foot of the bed and looks at us.”

Oh dear. That`s awful! I hadn`t actually ever chucked out a ghost. I`d seen a couple of dubious spirits myself, but had regarded them with reservation. But I did know a priest that had done exorcisms. Anyway you are not supposed to tackle baddies on your own. You need backup – and are supposed, in fact, to refer to the Diocesan Exorcist. That can result in long complications.

Did I believe in ghosts? Not sure, but this couple did and therefore needed help – now. It was spoiling their marriage. They didn`t need a whole lot of palaver. We two priests looked at each other. Neither of us have ever been good at doing what we were told, so we just got on with it. I hope that none of our present clergy are so awful! Let`s say it was the “Nelson Touch”.

The couple came back to church. “???”. “Wonderful,” they told me. “She`s gone! Oh, the relief!” The husband reached in his pocket and brought out (believe it or not) a wad of notes. “How much?” What a nice man, but we couldn`t take it, of course. It`s known as Simony. (See Acts 8.9). “All part of the service,” I told him. “You can put something in the collection if you wish, but there is no need. You really don`t have to.” We parted. Smiles all round.

A couple of months later they were back. Oh dear! Had the ghost come back? “No. It`s OK, but my uncle has died. Could you take the funeral?” “Yes, I could do, but what is the matter with your local clergy?” They had come 80 miles. I was worried because of the fee. Was this a way of paying us for services rendered? He fidgeted a bit. “No, nothing like that. Well, it`s just that we feel that if you bury him he`ll stay down.”

I don`t know whether I should have done, but I felt really pleased and flattered.

Magazine articles by Tony

The following links open the PDF file for that month's Magazine - searching within the file for "wheeler" will take you to the article.

Magazine articles about Tony