Ordained in pursuit of 'biggest story ever'

By Dominic Ponsford

Journalists are generally far more interested in last orders than holy orders.

But for George Pitcher, former industrial editor of the Observer,
his pursuit of the “biggest story ever” will see him ordained as a
Deacon later this month to become Curate of St Bride’s Church, Fleet
Street.

Pitcher, 50, said his initial interest in Christianity
was academic: “This is the biggest story in journalistic terms there
ever was. It’s one hell of a scoop that Mary Magdelan got on Sunday
morning or it’s the biggest con trick ever perpetuated.

Either way that’s a bloody good story.”

But he said the beginnings of a vocation came when he became a regular church-goer following the Dunblane massacre.

Pitcher
entered journalism at the age of 24, after previously working as a
North Sea diver, and started his career on magazine publisher
Haymarket’s graduate training scheme.

He went freelance in order
to break on to the nationals and recalls covering the Libyan embassy
siege for the Daily Mirror from the card room of the East India Club.
He eventually gained a staff job on the Observer, where he rose to
industrial editor, before launching PR firm Luther Pendragon in 1992
with News at Ten editor Charles Stewart Smith.

Pitcher said there
was no “Damascene moment” but more a gradual increase in involvement at
St Bride’s which started through attending various memorial services
for journalists – most notably that of Farzad Bazoft, the Observer’s
Iraq correspondent who was hanged by Saddam Hussein in 1990.

Pitcher admits to “sinning at Olympic level” in his past but says 14 March, 1996 was a watershed.

He
said: “I came here [St Bride’s] for morning communion, it was the
morning after the Dunblane massacre. Like hundreds of thousands of
other people I was wandering around feeling rather numb that morning,
feeling ashamed to be human.

“I went to communion and then
started coming every week – one thing led to another and I ended up
going to the Rector here and asking is this a vocation because I’ve
never had one before. He said kick its tyres and see what happens.”

After
what Pitcher says was a rigorous selection process – “it’s far easier
becoming a member of the Garrick than doing this” – he was accepted on
to the North Thames Ministerial Training Course.

Three years
later he is set to become a Deacon at a ceremony at St Paul’s on 20
June. It is a non-stipendiary position which means he will continue his
job as a director of Luther Pendragon, based a stone’s throw away from
St Bride’s.

He said news of his career change has been greeted surprisingly well by journalist friends.

“I
expected a lot of more apprehension from journalist mates about this
but a lot of them have said ‘that makes sense, good luck mate’.

“The fact is that if you scratch below the surface of your average hack they are quite sensitive spiritual people really.

One
of the things about journalism is there’s some sense of the truth –
you’re trying to get to what’s true in some sense or another.

“An editor will tell you ‘there’s my truth, your truth and there’s the truth’ – but the fact is you’re testing the value of stuff and that’s what we are doing to some degree in the church.”

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