Friday, 3 February 2012

Peter Hutley - A Man for All Seasons Part 2

Peter Hutley with his wife Ann
In this concluding article, Peter Hutley MBE KSG is in conversation with A & B News’ special correspondent, Peter Burholt, covering the influence of Medjugorje on his life, his conversion to Catholicism, the Wintershall Plays and a hint of his next major evangelisation project. (Read Part 1 here)
Part 2: Growing in Faith
Q: We left our last conversation at the point where you expressed your doubts about the legitimacy of the Anglican faith. Now we turn to another key event. Medjugorje and the parish priest, Fr Jozo, have featured strongly in your life. What is that all about?
A: I must admit I had had a lukewarm attitude to religion before Medjugorje. But my daughter, Charlotte, went on a pilgrimage to that place and returned so full of excitement about her experience she persuaded my wife, Ann, to go. Later I was curious to find out what this was all about and I went and spent many long hours with the Franciscans and the parish priest, Fr Jozo. I was in church every day – what a place to be inspired, everyone should go.

Back home I then conferred with Fr Peter Hall on how to covert to Catholicism. I remember announcing that I was ready and “Could I do it this weekend?” The reality was that it took a year! Ann had a great battle in being converted as she had strong ties with the Anglican Church at Hascombe.

Since my first visit to Medjugorje I have been back on over 20 occasions and, at one point, I persuaded Cardinal Cormac to come and mediate between the friars and the local bishop. There is, sadly, still some conflict there about what did or did not happen, and the proposed enquiry into those events which surrounded the children and Our Lady has never taken place.

On my trips to that part of the world I could see the unrest that was happening so I organised Fr Jozo to come to England, when he addressed a large number of people in 5 cathedrals and both Houses of Parliament. We also managed to meet the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Coggan.

Q: Today, you are best known for the Life of Christ productions on the estate. By anyone’s standards it is a massive undertaking – with a 200 strong cast, animals and the use of the natural backdrop of the land. Why did you start it and was it a big risk personally?
A: I stumbled on finding a way of evangelising through drama. It all began when one of my daughters suggested one Christmas we put on a Nativity play in Holly Barn. I remember we had to push the cows out first and lay down some straw before we could invite the neighbours! In my life I have taken many chances, but in putting on these plays I felt I was led so I did not feel at risk.

Q: You write the plays – are you an experienced writer? I understand it was as a result of the Pope’s call to action you wrote your major play as the proper celebration for the Millennium.
A: I have no experience of writing and I guess you are correct, I have learnt on the job. In fact, I have written all the Wintershall plays and the Pope’s call to have a proper Millennium celebration led me to writing the Life of Christ. There would not be a millennium without Jesus!

Q: Does your play go through a censor for accuracy?
A: Not as such, but I do take the trouble to refer what I have written to two or three priests for the biblical content and style. I am very keen to keep the story of the Bible accurate and in a language which everyone can understand. Producing the plays now continues all year, but fortunately I have been blessed with organisational skills.

Q: Do you ever get criticised for being so public about your Faith?
A: I have got faith, so I am quite relaxed about any other views people might have about what I do. Maybe they giggle behind my back, but what I do is in obedience of the Church. God has been good to me and I want to use these “assets” for others. I find that I have always been led by God and I want to go out and spread the Word, as we all have been instructed to do.

Q: How did you get permission to stage the Passion of Jesus in Trafalgar Square with 107 actors, two horses and a donkey in the centre of London?
A: It did take a bit of pushing in various directions. Security is an issue given its location, but I do get the support of our own church and the Bishop of London. It is certainly something the average visitor to Trafalgar Square doesn’t expect to see.

Q: What about your own family?
A: Yes, I have two sons and two daughters who, between them, have given us 15 wonderful grandchildren - all but one live on the estate, either being involved in the plays or the farm. My daughter, who lives in Fife, puts on our plays at her home and in Dundas Castle. I am proud to say that nearly all our family have been involved in what we have done over the years.

Q: Do you make money out of these activities?
A: Sitting up straight, Peter’s emphatic reply came in one word “No!”

I used to have funds left over, which were donated to charity. Today it is a financial drain. For instance, the Trafalgar Square production costs £80,000 to put on; the Life of Christ on the estate costs £140,000. Now the cupboard is almost bare.

Q: You established HASTE (Heart and Stroke Trust Endeavour) as one of the beneficiaries of your charitable trust. How did this come about?
A: About 10 years ago I had a bit of a scare about my health. However, I was so grateful to be given the all-clear. It was a few weeks later my consultant came to me with an urgent plea for funds to help those suffering from heart problems and strokes.

The situation was dire, so I got on with fund raising and managed to gather nearly a million pounds to build the Haste Wing at the Royal Surrey Hospital. I’m very privileged to have been able to help in some small way and I continue to thank God for my own health. Recently we have set up a research foundation jointly with the Surrey University and the Royal Surrey to find the cause and cure for atrial fibrillation. This was another half a million!

Q: What gives you pleasure?
A: A night off from reading papers and early to bed – that would make me very happy indeed!

You asked me if I could give this all up. Subject to the rules being changed about being married, I could quite easily be content with being a friar. Of course, that would have to be with my wife, Ann.

Q: What makes you sad?
A:  Pain, hardship and deprived children are some of the things that make me sad. Did you know that half the world’s population is starving? Any way, who said life would be easy? But I do keep optimistic.

Q: How would you like people to remember you when you have departed this world?
A: This last Christmas I reached the old age of 85. When my time eventually comes I hope people will say that he used his creative skills for the benefit of others and he tried to do his “bit” for life. In the meantime, I start work at 7.45 am and carry on until 5 pm – I have to work hard to keep everything going.

Where would you and I go after this fulfilling life? Most likely we would happily settle for a gentile rest home. Not this man for all seasons. He eagerly talked about his next aspiration –still on the drawing board and not for this paper just yet, but it does involve a very large auditorium in central London for a major Christian play. Watch this space, Peter Hutley is not done yet!

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