By Sue Farrow.
The Spiritualist movement’s best known church president has stepped down after almost fifty years in the hot seat.
At Stourbridge church’s annual general meeting on March 16, I watched from the back as members listened intently to Minister Eric Hatton, also Honorary President of the Spiritualists’ National Union, while he delivered his final presidential address. He urged members to preserve the highest possible standards of mediumship and philosophy in the future, adding that these things were crucial to the success and credibility of Spiritualism. His strongest and most passionate plea concerned the importance of maintaining “the harmony” of the church community.
Eric’s association with the church goes back to 1946, when, following the death of his much loved brother, his quest for survival evidence led him to attend a demonstration by Gordon Higginson. Not only did that demonstration provide Eric with evidence so outstanding that it would change the course of his life, it also marked the beginning of a deep friendship between the two men which was to last until Gordon’s passing in 1993.
Eric became a church member in 1948 and the rest is history. By 1949 he had become church secretary, and following a period as vice-president was unanimously elected president in 1963.
Under Eric’s leadership, carried out with the dedicated support of his late wife Heather, Stourbridge National Spiritualist Church became a beacon for Spiritualism, hosting the very best mediums and speakers. Albert Best, Doris Collins, Doris Stokes, Robin Stevens, Sally Ferguson, Mary Duffy and Gordon Higginson were among a plethora of outstanding mediums who graced its platform on a regular basis. That tradition of excellence continues today with visits from such gifted mediums as Gerard Smith, Eileen Davies, Robert Goodwin, Jackie Wright, John Conway, Andy Byng and others.
During his long presidency Eric has also overseen three major renovations and extensions to the church, which today is a warm, inviting and well-equipped space, frequently full to capacity. Over the past few years it has been my privilege to attend services at Stourbridge on numerous occasions and there is no doubt that a uniquely special atmosphere exists within it walls, due in significant measure to Eric’s devoted service over so many years. Even when 150 people are present he will move around the church greeting and speaking with each one individually, a gesture guaranteed to make them feel welcome and valued.
In recent years Eric has suffered several periods of severe ill health and has at times struggled valiantly to fulfil his many and varied commitments within the Spiritualist movement. I put it to him that it must have been a very difficult decision to give up the presidency of a church which has long been so closely identified with him that it is frequently referred to as “his” church.
“It has never been my church,” he told me. “I feel very sad about stepping down. I would have liked to be able to continue, not for the length of time I have been president, but because of my devotion to the church itself. However, I will continue to be involved and to assist our new president in any way I can.”
So who is to take over from Eric? Members have elected Laraine Killarney, who has been one of Stourbridge’s two vice-presidents for the past four years. I asked her how she felt about following in Eric’s footsteps.
“I find this a sad occasion as – largely for health reasons — Eric is standing down as president,” she told me. “Our church is well known far and wide for its high standards of Spiritualism and the evidence it provides. Eric has been my mentor for the past four years and I am proud to follow in his footsteps as president. I cannot be another Eric but with all the help and training he has graciously passed on to me I will endeavour to keep the same excellent standards that he and Heather have achieved.”
Speaking at the close of the AGM, Laraine announced that Eric had been asked to accept the title of Honorary President in recognition of his long and outstanding service to the church. This was greeted with lengthy applause and an emotional standing ovation.