from a tramp
On 12 November 1997, in Durham Cathedral, England, a group of five preachers
delivered their sermons hoping to win "Preacher of the Year Award".
The theme of the talks was "holiness", and the unanimous winner
was the Reverend Paul Walker, a vicar from Moorside, Sunderland. In his
sermon he spoke of his unusual encounter with a tramp. One of the judges,
broadcaster Joan Bakewell, said: "Paul addressed the subject very clearly.
His sermon was original, appealing and new. There was a general sense of
warmth throughout the congregation when he had finished, and a sense that
people had been a little more energized in their Christian life. He spoke
very much from the heart and I think we all felt very moved. We were made
to smile and made to think."
Share International contacted Paul Walker to hear his story.
Share International: Could you tell us about your experience at Victoria
Paul Walker: I believe that most people have something that happens in their
life that makes them think and changes them and I guess this is the one
for me. The first sermon I ever preached included this story and every significant
sermon I've ever preached has included it.
At the time I was a student training to be a priest on the south coast of
England, and I was waiting for a train at Victoria Station, London. Refusing
to spend a lot of money in the local cafés, and having a long time
to wait, I nipped over to an off-license and bought myself a bottle of beer.
back, opened the beer, lit a cigarette and was hanging around when this
fellow came into the station. He was a typical tramp: he was making a lot
noise and shuffling along, looking in bins and talking to people. It was
one of those situations when everyone on Victoria Station knew he was there
but was pretending he wasn't! I had that sinking feeling that he was going
to come and talk to me - and of course he did.
SI: Do you remember what he looked like?
PW: Not really. Although I remember his eyes. His eyes came to me quite
piercingly - I remember seeing very strongly his eyes. He was Scottish.
He said: "Do you have a cigarette?" I thought if I give him a
cigarette that'll get rid of him. Then he said: "Can I have a swig
of your beer?" I was a bit
annoyed because I'd just been over to the off-license to buy it. Anyway,
I gave him a swig, expecting him to finish it off, but, much to my embarrassment,
he just took a swig and handed it back to me and I felt that I had to drink
out of the same can that he'd drunk out of.
Then he started talking to me. He asked: " What do you do?" I
told him I was a student. He said: "Student of what?" I told him
I was training to be a
vicar. He said: "Do you pray?" It was not exactly the sort of
question I would normally expect to hear from that sort of bloke. I said:
he said: "No. I mean really pray - I mean pray all the time?"
Then I remember thinking I didn't, but that he was only a tramp so I could
lie to him, and I said: "Yes." The conversation went on and we
talked about prayer and being in touch with God - and being in touch with
God through spending time listening. He told me he prayed and he pulled
out of his pocket a broken set of rosary beads which I realized he'd been
fiddling with the whole time we'd been there. The whole situation was feeling
eerie - I was feeling more and more uncomfortable as it was going along
and I was aware that he was telling me things about prayer that I hadn't
learned in my training. The conversation seemed to go on and on.
SI: How long do you think it lasted?
PW: I'm not sure. Probably not that long in retrospect. Then at the end
he said: "Now listen. Remember what I've said. God can only work through
you if you let him." Then he said thank you for the cigarette and the
beer. Finally he looked at me and said: "Paul (I could swear I had
not told him my
name) - you never know who you've been talking to." Then he walked
At the "Preacher of the Year" event, Reverend Walker had ended
his sermon at this point, leaving the audience to draw their own conclusions
as to who the tramp might have been. Talking to Share International he again
refrained from speculation on the tramp's identity, but explained that whether
the tramp was "supernatural" or not, the event itself had had
a profound effect on his life and faith.