Michael was a very dear friend for many years, whose company we valued greatly. I first knew the family through his father, who was Moderator to the Congregational Churches in Yorkshire, to whom I turned when first sensing a call to become a minister.
I then came across Michael a good many years later when I was appointed a minister in the South Leeds Team Ministry. I discovered he was a person of many talents, especially the fact that he was an excellent Chef - in fact he was employed at Armley Jail responsible for feeding the staff each day. But he also put this talent to good use by fund-raising for a choir he was heavily involved in. This involved taking over someone's kitchen and providing a meal for their invited guests, who made a contribution towards the work of the choir that, in the end, gained an international reputation.
To this end, Jayne and myself would be invited round to his home a few weeks before one of these events, and he would 'experiment' with us so that he could test out his menus before taking it 'on the road'. We didn't mind being guinea pigs as his meals were excellent and of an extremely high standard - the only downside was that we had to offer 'constructive criticism' so that he could gauge what modifications might be deemed necessary (but he knew that I was no Mary Berry...!!)
After enjoying their gourmet cooking on numerous occasions, we felt it only right that we should extend an invitation to come to our home for a meal. I was on dessert duty, and chose a bread and butter puddling - and expressed amazement at the transformation that had taken place courtesy of the oven. We clearly couldn't achieve anywhere near the standards that Michael had produced, but what we offered was out of a deep sense of love and gratitude for his friendship. Nervously we watched him eat, and somewhat relieved that he graciously complimented us on our efforts.
As well as being an excellent cook, Michael was also blessed with a musical gift, both playing the piano and composing music. For myself I could strum a guitar of sorts, and have been known to play a comb wrapped in paper, but the one thing that I could offer was to sing - and we were able to combine our talents to good effect for the enrichment of ourselves, as well as the many audiences we entertained.
When I was invited by a Churches Together Group in Leeds to lead a session on 'Temptation' for their Lent Study, I wrote a dialogue that began in the Garden of Eden, and concluded with a meditation on the Cross where Jesus said: 'My God, My God, why have You abandoned Me?!' (Matthew 27: 46), I eagerly turned to Michael and explained that I wanted music to link the various sections and hold it all together - and he didn't disappoint, offering music that complimented the dialogue so that the presentation spoke to people at different levels.
It is a timely reminder as we celebrate the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the Church, that the Apostle Paul affirms that there are variety of skills and talents, which are distributed in different degrees of ability, but each have been given to achieve a purpose in life and to be a blessing. This is what he wrote to the Church in Corinth:
'There are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are varieties of service, but the same Lord. There are varieties of activity, but in all of them and in everyone the same God is active. In each of us the Spirit is seen to be at work for some useful purpose. But all these gifts are the activity of the one and the same Spirit, distributing them to each individual at will. [1 Corinthians 12: 4 - 11 (part) REB]
Elsewhere he insists that these gifts are meant to be given equal status - no one gift is more important than the other - and that they should be shared for the benefit of all. It is only when gifts and talents are pooled that we can begin to achieve much in the service of our Lord.