Wearing a long white robe and a large crucifix round his neck, Reverend Jason Bray led the terrified young family in reciting the Lord’s Prayer, as a circle of candles flickered in the darkness of their freezing front room.
The couple and their toddler daughter had turned up in his church the Sunday before, telling how their home had become eerily dark and icy cold, and about the fleeting shadows they had seen darting around the house.
Arriving at their home with a young fellow priest, the Anglican vicar also sensed a “pervading sense of clammy gloom”, and began walking around splashing holy water on the walls before gathering them in the living room for a final prayer of deliverance.
Then, in what Rev Bray describes as the most dramatic moment in his ministry, they began to say the famous prayer beginning ‘Our Father who art in Heaven…’
He recalls: “I felt my body somehow arch backwards, as if it were being stiffened and straightened by forces beyond my control. I almost felt as if something was travelling through my spine, and contorting it. But that was nothing compared with what happened next.”
When he opened his eyes after the final Amen, the house had completely changed, he says.
“We were obviously standing in the same room. But it was also, at one at the same time, completely different. Suddenly, in the space of 30 seconds, it was light and bright, and if the clouds had rolled back from the sun.
“The house was suddenly and unexplainably warm too, as if the temperature had risen by about four or five degrees. I was utterly astonished.”
The exorcism, after which the couple never saw the dark shadows again, was all in a day’s work for Rev Bray, who, as well as being the vicar of St Giles church in Wrexham, north Wales, also has another sideline, as a ‘deliverance minister’.
The married 51-year-old describes himself as “your quintessential vicar, the guy in the long dress and poncho who stands at the front of church and tells you God loves you”, but he has also spent two decades visiting the haunted homes of people desperate for help to get rid of their ghosts, spirits and poltergeists.
And while he insists Anglican clergymen like himself who have been trained and given special permission to deal with the paranormal are “surprisingly common”, Rev Bray has documented his experiences in a new book, Deliverance.
Recruited and authorised to carry out exorcisms by the local bishop, he says he gets around a dozen call outs every year.
But the jovial vicar who says he has “a sideline in garish waistcoats” always tries to steer clear of the horror movie image of an ‘exorcist’ – a word he says is too strong for the Church of England.
“Despite the fact I always dress entirely in black, that I often wear a long black coat, and I sometimes sport a black trilby, and I also have to take a black bag round with me, I never walk in and say, ‘I’m the exorcist’,” he says.
“I usually say something along the lines of, ‘Hi, I’m Jason, I’ve been sent to sort out your problem’, more like that gas man than your conventional Hollywood exorcist.”
His first experience of the paranormal – and what led him into deliverance ministry – happened when he was a young curate and had just moved into a new house with his wife Laura and baby son Tom.
The couple couldn’t understand why the house was cold and dank, even with new PVC double-glazing and the heating on full, especially around their baby’s cot.
Then one night, after Rev Bray got up in the middle of the night to go to the toilet, he had a terrifying experience which, he says, “shook my trust in rational explanations.”
He recalls: “Having washed my hands, I turned towards the door. It was closed, but I sensed there was something – someone – standing on the other side, staring straight at me.
“A prickling sensation ran through me, from top to bottom. It wasn’t just a sense, it was a concrete vision. He – and I knew it was a he – was about my height and wearing a wooden mask. The mask had holes cut for his eyes which were drilling into mine.
“I realised instinctively that he was almost certainly a priest like me, although not a Christian priest. I began to feel his malice towards me. I was absolutely terrified, rooted to the spot and unable to breathe.
“After what felt like minutes I summoned the courage to raise an arm, place limp fingers on the handle and pull the door towards me. There was nobody there.”
Rev Bray told the parish vicar, who turned up at his home the following day, to bless the house and sprinkle holy water. He said the “change was instant”.
It was during his next placement, at Newport Cathedral in South Wales, that he started to join the trained deliverance minister on exorcisms, before gaining the necessary experience and training to be able to take on supernatural activity on his own.
And although he talks through their problem with each parishioners before heading out – taking his trusty bag containing holy water, salt, candles and a crucifix, as well as vessels to celebrate Holy Communion – he admits he never knows what he’ll find until he knocks on their doors.
They have included everything from poltergeists exploding vases and sending cutlery flying out of drawers to the ghost of a young man who kept appearing naked in his grieving boyfriend’s shower and a woman haunted by a swarm of ghostly rats crawling under her duvet at night.
One family came to him in panic after their whole house shook in the middle of the night with such force they thought a juggernaut had slammed into it.
“The couple and their teenage son and daughter had only just moved into their new house, and strange things had started to happen, classic signs of poltergeist activity, such as shoes moving around seemingly on their own.
“The son had seen figures moving around in his bedroom and was too frightened to stay in the house.
“Then one night at about 2am, everyone in the house felt this crash, and they all ran to the windows, fully expected to see half a lorry sticking out of the front of their house. But there was nothing there.”
Rev Bray discovered that the now deceased elderly couple who had lived there before them – the wife had a particularly bad temper – had adored the house, but the new owners had completely gutted and rebuilt it.
“Again, after praying around the house and saying the Lord’s Prayer in the living room, the apparent hauntings stopped.”
He said he believed that the previous owners “may have found a way of holding on, maybe in the fabric itself, which had then been so cruelly ripped out”.
The priest says he deals with three main types of supernatural activity – poltergeists, place memories and ‘true hauntings’.
Poltergeist activity, contrary to the film of the same name, is not evil spirits or ghosts of the unquiet dead, he believes, but a release of pent up energy, most often associated with children and teenagers who find it difficult to express themselves.
He says: “It is caused by someone alive and present who may be undergoing significant trauma or stress and is unable to communicate their distress. The theory is that the energy that builds up inside them and is released in the world around them.
“Things move around, there might be knocking on walls and doors, and it affects electricity too, so lights can turn on and off.”
He says he often has to have “the poltergeist conversation” with families when he realises what they think is a ghost is actually being caused by a child’s pent up anger or frustration with their parents.
Rev Bray calls other common phenomenon he sees ‘place memory’ which he believes is that an event in the distant past has been etched into the fabric of a building, and is often triggered by building work being carried out.
“One example is the Roman soldiers often seen roaming through the basement of the house next to York minster, or the ghosts of monks and nuns people have seen in Borley Rectory in Essex.
“There is no attempt to communicate with the living, it’s almost like watching a film. The ghost isn’t really there in any real sense. Whenever I deal with these I’ll ask the person if they’ve had any major structural work done, and they almost always say, ‘gosh, how did you know?’.”
A ‘true haunting’ is when there is an attempt to communicate with the living, and can be “very frightening indeed.”
He says: “That was the case of my friend Pete, whose dead boyfriend Craig kept appearing in the shower and spare room. Lots of people who came to stay saw him, while a photo of him on the wall came off the nail by itself and crashed to the floor.
“He wasn’t particularly bothered by his presence, his main concern was that he should move on. The other people were terrified out of their wits.”
But not every haunting Rev Bray is called to turns out to be anything otherworldy.
“I have to believe that people think they are being haunted. But sometimes the radiator needs bleeding or there is a problem with the drains. Once I realised straight away what the issue was when I visited a house built on a flood plain, which had an issue with rotting vegetation. ‘I’m quite happy to bless your house,’ I told them. ‘But you also need to get your drains sorted.”