Don’t forget it’s Flower Festival weekend at St. Andrew’s Wormingford this Bank Holiday weekend, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily.
Come and see the wonderful flower displays based on the theme of “A celebration of Her Majesty The Queen’s 90 years.”
Don’t miss the bric-a-brac sale, plant stall, farm produce, cakes, lunches, teas and refreshments at the Wormingford Community Education Centre a short stroll along the road.
Entrance is free – come down and see us 🙂
Ronald Blythe enjoys accompanying St Paul on his travels
I HAVE been reading that great travel book which we call the Acts of the Apostles. The infant Church was holed up in secret rooms, and uncertain what to do or where to go. It was guilty about this; for had not its founder been unequivocal regarding such things? “Go out into all the world and preach the gospel.” But how? What an impossible task.
All that they knew was a little land about the size of Wales. All the world was the Roman Empire — an immense place spread about the Mediterranean Sea. The physical and political dangers were legendary. Yet the Lord’s directive was unambiguous: “Go out into the world and teach what I have taught you.”
Paul, his last apostle, however, was a born traveller, and one with a perfect passport, being both a Jew and a Roman. It had given him an international outlook, and a formidable presence. He had been brought up on a great trading route, and he knew the world. He could go anywhere. He knew men who sailed on ocean-covering ships, not fishing boats on Galilee.
But he made a big mistake when he opted to be tried in Rome instead of at a country assize. Had he accepted the latter option, King Agrippa would have released him, and the entire history of the Church would have been different.
But he had another reason for making this fatal journey. One night, in his sleep, a voice had whispered: “Keep up your courage. You have affirmed me in Jerusalem, and must do the same in Rome.” This was why he was going. He was not the only Rome-bound prisoner, but one of a group. And they were all under the guard of a centurion belonging to the Augustine cohort. He was an officer of the Emperor’s own regiment.
Paul so impressed this man that, when the ship docked at Sidon, where he had friends, he was allowed to stay with them. It was an industrial port, full of metalworkers; so no wonder his ship was overladen with heavy goods.
When the ship reached Myra, all the prisoners except Paul were transferred to another vessel, which crept along the coast, this time near Crete. It was all, to use one of Paul’s favourite phrases, perilous. This part of the Aegean had always been a ships’ graveyard. “I can see, gentlemen, that this voyage will be disastrous.”
There were 276 people on board — souls, as the sailors called them — but neither the captain nor the centurion listened to their extraordinary prisoner, and it is at this point that Paul begins to sound like Conrad. He begins to comfort and reassure: “Now I urge you not to lose heart. Not a single life will be lost, only the ship.” This was cold comfort to the owner, who was aboard.
Paul then ordered a meal to be got ready. He said grace. He lightened the ship by throwing everything else into the sea. He brought a kind of faint hope. Early the next morning, the sun showed them land, and they ran aground. They had reached Malta. St Paul and Christianity had set foot in Europe.
The Maltese, Paul said, treated them with uncommon kindness. It was pouring with rain. The islanders lit a bonfire to dry the travellers, the apostle himself gathering sticks. Three months later, a beautiful south wind blew them to Italy, where some friends of Paul met them. It was always Paul’s dream, he said: first Jerusalem, then Rome.
Now and then, I tell this exciting travel tale by way of a sermon. Alas, after a long residency, Paul’s belief in someone greater than Caesar determined his fate, which was execution.
Ronald Blythe recalls a religious experience involving coffee
SOFTLY drenching spring rains. In spite of them, I must mark where the honeysuckles cross the path: otherwise the mower will do its deadly work. There is nothing like getting soaked for a good cause. Geese whirr over from river to lake. Rhubarb is fit to pull. Laburnums have that jazzy, budding look. Like some merciful tyrant, I allow a weed here and there to flourish.
And still it rains, and still the young weather forecaster apologises for what he has to tell us. How I long to hear him say: “A lovely wet day, and more to come.”
By way of a sermon, I tell the congregation about going to Vézelay when I was young, for Ascension Day. Not that this was intended. A French doctor friend drove us to a mysterious hill, about 90 miles from Paris, where we awoke to the clamour of some great feast. Bells, children, dogs, monks, tourists, everyone and everything with a tongue cried that “Christ is risen!” And there was a procession like Christ’s walk to the Mount of Olives, where his ascension to heaven took place.
At school we sang “See the Conqueror mounts in triumph”, a thrilling hymn by Christopher Wordsworth, the poet’s brother, and then rushed to change our clothes and go for bike rides.
But in Vézelay it was not like this. The white-and-gold church, from which the Crusades had been taught — and which rose from a mountain of vineyards — seemed to possess an ecstatic quality; this, fired, as it were, by Stravinsky’s music, felt as though it would leave Burgundy and become planetary.
Also, a chambermaid entered my bedroom with coffee, then in my dazed state appeared to take away a wall, leaving me open to the universe. L’Ascension! And all this in a supposedly not very religious country.
Here in Wormingford, we read of St Paul’s friend Theophilus, who always sounds to me like the apostle’s publisher. And then that thrilling cloud of unknowing, which is itself a way of seeing, the vanishing of Christ, and the confidence of those who are able to see him, then and now.
Most wonderfully, Christ’s earth-dwelling spirit is called “the Comforter”. When I was in Vézelay, a row of young men sat on a wall, waiting to be ordained. Flocks of doves were released around them. St Peter told them to minister to one another, but they looked too shy to say a word.
Brief excursions into one another’s beliefs shake up one’s convictions and, I suppose, freshen the soul. It is a lifetime since I prayed in the white and gold of Vézelay on Ascension Day.
The ascension marks the solemn close of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. And then came his exaltation to the heavenly life. He left his earthly friends during an act of blessing on the Mount of Olives. St Luke’s account is brief. Our questioning nature leaves so much in the air. To which St Paul replies: “Now you see as through a glass darkly — but then face to face.”
At Vézelay, there was nothing which was not as bright as day. But, then, we were young enough to have seen it all.
I see that the guttering behind the house needs a clearing hand. It is low enough for me to clear without a ladder. How many times have I done this? Everything runs away. But swallows and this summer’s flowers are about to return. And they are sowing the Big Field with something, although I can’t see what. I am too low down.
What was either dormant or dead rises. But my pear blossom — what a treat! And the little dog from the Pyrenees, and the horses from goodness knows where, how they race on our small hills!
How many of us could live up to high ideals, Ronald Blythe wonders
SOME years ago, I was invited to re-edit a famous little book, George Herbert’s The Country Parson, because it was more than 300 years old and full of words that would puzzle today’s readers. It is a famous book, written in 1631 — very soon after its youthful author had been appointed Rector of a tiny Wiltshire parish, Bemerton.
The rural clergy have, over the centuries, written a vast number of books, on botany, local history, devotions, poetry, gossip, travel — every subject under the sun — and this with rarely leaving their livings. As for diaries, theirs are among the best in the language. Who can live without Francis Kilvert?
But Herbert’s The Country Parson remains special. For one thing, it is alarmingly strict. He had famously given up being a rather grand academic at Cambridge University, and had chosen to look after the tiniest parish imaginable. He was tall and thin, and ill. It was the fenny ague, or consumption. He was newly married, and the greatest poet of the Church of England, although no one knew this.
He was an excellent musician, and his parishioners would have listened to him playing the flute, probably in the church porch. He was a very good gardener, and a lover of old proverbs. His household, of about a dozen relatives and servants, walked across the busy Salisbury road several times a day to sing psalms and say their prayers, while he would often walk on to sing with the Salisbury Cathedral choir.
Disconcertingly for Bemerton, their new priest knew a lot about farming, gardening, and housekeeping, and far too much about village life. Generally, his hospitality included having the Lord Jesus to dinner, laying a place for him, or riding beside him in the Wiltshire countryside. So they began to call him “Holy Mr Herbert.”
When he died, aged 39, and his poems were published and became a best-seller, the Church of England had to re-evaluate itself. Something extraordinary had happened to it. It was no longer merely reformed, it had become sacred in its own way, inspired and confident. Although, how many of its ministers could live by the rules of The Country Parson, heaven alone knew.
One of the requirements of all faiths is that we should try to live according to the perfected self. Herbert, being such a great religious writer, was able to find a language for this — a wonderful domestic language.
A servant with this clause
Makes drudgery divine:
Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws
Makes that and th’ action fine.
Herbert was, of course, teaching the servant Christ, the Saviour who washed his friends’ feet after they had tramped around Palestine. Herbert’s clergy were to cover both themselves and the sanctuary with snowy linen, yet enter the filthiest cottage; they were to teach the poorest children to read and write, and the parish to eat from its fields, orchards, and gardens, and to cure its ailments from its own medicine chest — the one which grew outside. They were not to dress up when they came to church, but walk in just as they were, in their field clothes.
They still drink from the chalice he used, ring the bell he rang, sing the songs he sang, go to Salisbury Cathedral to join “the singing men” there, as he did. His parson must never forget that he was Christ’s deputy: he was to be of his people, yet set apart.
A young man reminds Ronald Blythe of Dickens’s Marley
WHEN Jesus told the rich young man to sell all he had, and give the proceeds to the poor, he was dealing with two kinds of hunger. One of them was the young man’s hunger for what we call “a life”. “Get a life,” we say. Jesus saw that the main impediment to the young man’s getting life in all its fullness was money. Alas, what he was told to give to receive such a love was too great a price to pay; so the young man went away, sad.
It wasn’t as if he hadn’t already invested heavily; for he had said his prayers, he said, and remained virtuous, he said, which would have been enough for anyone. But Jesus sees a trapped soul, a young person already unable to move because of possessions — someone who spent what life he had looking after his money.
Charles Dickens had him in mind when he created Jacob Marley, whom, you will recall, ended up as a ghost hung about with ledgers and safes so that he could hardly walk; which is what we must do occasionally, to be able to fly towards God. Today, Marley would be dragging around computers and investments, mortgages and offshore profits, and a garage full of cars.
Christ’s anti-materialistic law is a hard law for us — almost the hardest. It hits us cruelly. The Gospels are crammed with every kind of giving, from the widow’s mite to the Lord’s all; but all this giving would not be there if a tremendous purpose did not lie behind it. We know that one of the best gifts which is within our giving is not money, but time.
Friends and neighbours in want are often not saying “Spare us a pound,” but “Spare us an hour, or a day.” We look at our watch or our diary and mumble something about “I can manage a visit on the 25th at four in the afternoon, if that will do.” Whereas Jesus is advising us: give this person yourself, for an unmeasured period; free yourself from all this busyness.
The blind man halted the healer by demanding mercy. Just before this exciting event on the Jericho road — on that same road on which a Samaritan showed mercy to someone of another faith — Christ and his little band had met after a solemn journey to Jerusalem to come to grips, as it were, with what would happen. In Luke’s words, the son of man would be spitefully treated, and executed.
But, scripture says, they understood none of these things. They were beyond their vision. Sometimes, he was clear as daylight; sometimes, as obscure as midnight. They could not see what he was getting at; so they walked on, as they always did in his company. Walked on and on, listening, half-grasping what he said.
George Herbert remembered to say “Thank you” for the insights that God gave him. “Thou that hast given so much to me, Give one thing more, a grateful heart. See how thy beggar works on thee By art.”