Autumn is here, and our Harvest service at St.John’s was the last one there for a while, as we are now closing the church for the winter. The congregation has merged with St.Michael’s, and the Bemerton Community Group is working to save the building by planning to transform it into a shared community and worship space. It would be an amazing boon for village and church if it succeeds.
I’ve been reading that book (no, not Darren Brown’s latest money maker - the one by Justin Lewis-Anthony). It's an aggressive title (!) but basically it's about the way the expectations of clergy by themselves and others are unhealthy and unworkable. The link to George Herbert is that he is often misused as the example, or seen as the originator of them. I wonder what the expectations were in his time, though? If there were so few residentiary clergy and clerical standards so poor, maybe there weren’t many expectations, and so 'The Country Parson' was all about educating people about what the clergy ought to be doing.
Perhaps Mr Lewis-Anthony's mission is the same - trying to re-educate clergy and others as to the 'proper' role of the clergy. I fear he’s not going to win - people will expect of us what they will, and each location requires different skills and engagements - so it's best just to get on with the job really. Maybe I’ll ask him when he comes here next year.
Talking of getting on with the job, I was asked if I was certain that the St. Andrew's Church bell we ring twice a week for services truly was the same one George Herbert rang. Well, I’ll take any chance to go up a ladder - so up and through the tiny hatch I went. So much dust and dirt (and butterflies) but there was the bell in all its glory - but with no date inscribed! Some hasty photos and internet research revealed that dates were put on bells from the late 17th and 18th century. The marks on this bell show it to be 15th or 16th century, and therefore almost definitely the one mentioned in the history books - it was cast in Reading c1540 - 1550.
Up at the other end of the parish, I represent the Bemerton Heath Inter-Agency group, working with county councillors and planners on a new housing development for another 3000 people. We are trying to make sure that the benefits of this new build are spread over the whole area. Just the kind of civic work that George Herbert did not mention in 'The Country Parson', but local historian John Chandler assures us he did do. In a great George Herbert in Bemerton Group evening in the summer, he told us how Herbert would have received everyone’s tithes, but then would have used them for road mending and the kind of services we now expect from the council. Education and health would also have been the Rector’s tasks, now thankfully taken on by rather larger organisations. Expectations change, but the jobs still need to be done!
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