Reverend Martin Gorick, vicar of Holy Trinity church in Stratford, Warwickshire Life
PUBLISHED: 23:51 07 February 2010 | UPDATED: 21:16 15 April 2013
Partying with Dame Judi Dench. Finding £4 million to save 'Shakespeare's church'. Parish committee meetings. Meeting the tourists. It's all in a day's work for the Reverend Martin Gorick, vicar of Holy Trinity church in Stratford-upon-Avon.
As I stroll through Stratford's Old Town with the Reverend Martin Gorick, vicar of Holy Trinity Church, it's abundantly clear from the greetings exchanged with passers-by that Martin is a well-known and popular local figure. As the vicar of one of the country's biggest tourist attractions - the church where Shakespeare is buried - Reverend Gorick balances the work of small town vicar with the needs of the tourist industry and the worries of a church that needs a lot of money, and soon.
"I said that I wanted a job that would be challenging for a decent amount of time and I seem to have found it!" says Martin.
In 2001, after eight years as the vicar of Old Church, Smethwick, Birmingham, Martin and his wife Katharine faced up to a dilemma. Conscious that their son Sam was fast approaching secondary school age, and wanting to ensure that both he and their daughters, Lydia and Anna, had an undisrupted secondary education, the time had come to make the decision that would determine where they lived and worked for the next 10 or 12 years.
After much heart-searching they reached the conclusion that it was time to move on, a choice that led them to Stratford and Holy Trinity.
Little more than 30 miles separate Smethwick and Stratford, but other than geography the two parishes have little in common.
"Smethwick is a multi-racial, inner city area with huge deprivation and associated social problems such as violence and vandalism. It was a challenging place to live but we were very happy there. It's one of those places where its disadvantages were very obvious but its advantages were very real although hidden. The opportunity of working with people on the edges of society can be very rewarding, and in many ways it was a very warm community. It was hard to leave and it took a little while to feel that this was where we belonged," he recalls.
Martin, and his family have become very fond of their new home town.
"In some ways it is a little market town where you know people, which is lovely, but also, thanks in part to the theatre, it has a slightly different edge to it," he says.
"I love the fact of being in the town but also almost in the country as well, five minutes walk from here are fields and the river, I love the countryside, bird watching and wildlife generally. I think I saw an otter recently, they're just starting to come up the river, and there were two black swans there one day. Then you can walk for five minutes in the other direction and you're at the theatre, or Marks and Spencer, or a nice restaurant, I've never lived anywhere so ideally placed," he says.
As chaplain to the RSC there is also a welcome opportunity to become a part of the vibrant cultural life of the town.
"The theatre is a major employer, it's not just the actors and the stars, there's 500 others behind them building sets and making costumes. They're really creative people who I enjoy being with, and I try to see all the shows as that's what everyone is working towards. It gives a totally different side to my job, I remember one night after a Parish meeting which finished at 10 pm I went on to the post-show party, there was fantastic cabaret that Judi Dench had organised and I got home at around three in the morning! There aren't many jobs where you get to move from one world to another like that, and it is one of the great privileges of this job.
" In Smethwick I got as much of a thrill from taking a Jamaican funeral, which can be a fantastic cultural experience, the men fill in the grave, the women sing songs, they cover the grave with flowers and then after that it's back for really loud music and a Jamaican party.
"That's one of the things about being ordained, you are immersed in the community where you are. It's not like you commute in, it's where you live, where your children go to school, where you do your shopping, and where you work. If you've got eyes to see it you are given very privileged access to peoples' lives and worlds, and within that you have a role and a part to play. It's a side of the job I love I'm not much of a committee man!"
The association of Holy Trinity with Shakespeare adds another dimension to the usual duties of a parish priest. It's the most visited parish church in England and up to a quarter of a million visitors each year come to see Shakespeare's grave with the famous inscription:
"Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare, To digg the dust encloased heare, Blest be the man that spares these stones, And curst be he that moves my bones."
"People get very excited about the curse and the blessing, but I doubt it was unique at the time, it's the only one I know of, but I expect there were others," says Martin.
A host of theories explaining the inscription have been offered, some more outlandish than others, but Martin suggests an altogether more pragmatic one.
"Right next to where Shakespeare is buried was the Charnel House, it's been knocked down now but there's still a doorway there. That's where they would move bones if they wanted to re-use graves, so perhaps he didn't fancy having his bones moved in to there. Or maybe he guessed people would want to come and see his grave in the future!," he smiles.
Whilst there's an obvious need to ensure that the needs of the parish, with its population that has grown from 13,000 to 18,000 over the past eight years, are not undermined, for Martin the flow of visitors is a positive thing
"Personally I really like that any day if you hang around in the church you can meet people from all over the world, and it's lovely that they come here. Some people would say that it's nothing to do with God, but we welcome people who are coming to find Shakespeare and we hope they go away having found something of God. Many do light a candle and leave requests for prayer that are often very moving. It's a real church in that way and not just a 'Shakespeare place'.
An added bonus of providing open visitor access is that the building is also available as a place for quiet reflection on most days of the year, something quite uncommon in towns today.
Inevitably there have been some memorably funny moments over the years - not least an America tourist, apparently convinced that they were standing on a film set, who was overheard to exclaim: "To think they built all this for Shakespeare In Love!"
Alongside 'business as usual' the race is also on to ensure the future of the majestic 13th century building. Although to the casual observer little appears to wrong, not long after his arrival Martin realised the building was in urgent need of some TLC.
"When it rained we had water running down the walls onto the 15th century misericords," he recalls. "It turned out the roof above Shakespeare's grave had dry rot and death watch beetle. That was just one of the problems, the architects' report revealed the need for major structural restoration work."
"Five years ago the estimate for the work was in the region of 4 million. In the world of church restoration that's not an enormous cost, but it's still incredibly hard to raise," he says.
"We hadn't got the money to pay for the work and people couldn't see where it was going to come from. In that situation you can either turn away, shut your eyes and think that when I leave maybe the next person will do it, or you can say this is our responsibility what can we do?"
The worldwide renown of 'Shakespeare's Church' is something of a double-edged sword; while it is helpful in raising the project's profile it also leads to misconceptions about sources of funding for the work.
Assumptions that American benefactors, the UK Government, or English Heritage will foot the bill are all incorrect
"We did get a donation of 50,000 from English Heritage, but a lot of their funding has been taken away by the Olympics so their grants to charities have been cut heavily, and they tend to take the view that because we get so many visitors that we shouldn't need their help."
Whilst visitors to Shakespeare's grave are asked to make a small donation, much of this income is taken up in meeting the costs of heating, lighting and staffing that are involved in keeping the church open throughout the week
"It's a useful bit of income but not nearly enough," says Martin adding that notions that the Church Of England will provide the necessary cash are also misguided - Holy Trinity is a net contributor to, rather than receiver from, central church funds
"We need to raise 115,000 to send to the Diocese before we do anything locally each year."
All in all it's a big ask from a worshipping congregation of 350 people, so with the help of others who are equally passionate about ensuring the future of Holy Trinity a
Charity, Friends of Shakespeare's Church, has been formed.
In the past five years around 750,000 has been raised and spent on completing vital repair work to the chancel parapet and roof as well as the tower spire.
It's an impressive achievement, but there is still a lot to be done.
"So we're doing it in phases - unless of course somebody lovely comes along and decides to give us the money, it would be a fantastic legacy and the church would be restored and conserved for the next hundred years," says Martin.
The next objective is to raise the 400,000 needed for the restoration of the huge clerestory windows high above the north aisle. Five hundred years of exposure to the elements has deteriorated the stone tracery to a perilous state, causing concern about the stability of the whole upper level of the nave.
If the money for this and other subsequent work cannot be found then the future of the church as a place of worship, and destination for Shakespeare's pilgrims, is in jeopardy.
Despite the uncertainty, you can't help but suspect that the spirit of Holy Trinity rests a little easier knowing that the future lies in the hands of an energetic and determined man who's found the challenge that he was looking for.