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The Lockdown Lifts
There’s life in the town!
No longer ‘locked down’!
The people stroll out in the sun
The majestic trees
Sway in the light breeze
Like they wanted to join in the fun!
Like light after dark!
We can walk in the park!
Buy our tea, and sit out on the grass!
We can chat to our friends
As our loneliness ends
And we smile at the strangers we pass!
Yes there are still queues
Which cease to amuse
But things are no longer so black!
As they sing in that song –
You miss what is gone,
But it’s great when at last it comes back!
By Nigel Beeton
Many of you will remember the nursery rhyme, ‘A ring a ring of roses, a pocket full of poses, Atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down. ’ This rhyme was made up more than 350 years ago, at the time of the Great Plague. The ‘ring a ring of roses’ were the spots which looked like red roses on the skin of anyone who caught the disease. The ‘pocket full of posies’ were the posies, or bunches of sweet smelling flowers, which people held to their noses to stop the nasty smells which they thought carried the plague. ‘Atishoo, atishoo’ were the first signs that anyone had the plague, and of course their sneezes soon spread the germs. ‘All fall down’ meant that whoever got the plague soon fell down – dead.
In London during the August and September of 1665 nearly 50,000 people died of it. This was almost one out of every three people. As many as could tried to escape the disease by fleeing into the country. They thought they would be safe in the clean country air. But they often took the plague with them, and thousands more died in villages throughout the country.
You can, of course, see parallels now, in these times of our own plague, the Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. One of the earliest measures taken, back in March of this year to try to control the spread of the virus, was to ban all but essential travel. This meant, among many other inconveniences, that a lot of people had to cancel holidays. Indeed, in late March, Sue and I were due to spend a week in a holiday cottage on a farm in Derbyshire – something we have done regularly in early Springtime for many years. But it had to be cancelled at the last minute, and we lost the money we had paid.
Over the long period of our stays in Derbyshire, we have come to know and to love the county, and amongst the places we are familiar with is the village of Eyam – which is known as the ‘plague village’. The plague arrived in Eyam in late August 1665. It came in a parcel of cloth sent from London to the village tailor Alexander Hadfield. When Hadfield’s assistant George Viccars spread the cloth out by the fire to air, he found it was infested with rat fleas. He died a few days later with his burial being recorded in the parish registers on 7th September 1665.
The village rector at the time was 28-year-old William Mompesson, who lived in the rectory with his wife Catherine and their two small children. William and Catherine, together with William’s predecessor Thomas Stanley, drew up a three point plan with the villagers. The most important part of this was the setting up of a cordon sanitaire, or quarantine. This line went around the outskirts of the village and no Eyam resident was allowed to pass it. Signs were erected along the line to warn travellers not to enter.
Eyam needed sustaining, and was supplied with food and essentials from surrounding villages. The then Earl of Devonshire (ancestor of the now ‘Dukes’ of Devonshire - of Chatsworth House fame) himself provided supplies that were left at the southern boundary of the village. To pay for these supplies the villages left money in water troughs that were filled with vinegar, which they believed helped kill off the disease.
Other measures taken included the plan to bury all plague victims as quickly as possible and as near to the place they died rather than in the village cemetery. Also the locking up of the church to avoid parishioners being crammed into church pews - they instead moved to open air services to avoid the spread of the disease.
Over the long months that followed William Mompesson went from house to house, bringing comfort to the dying. In August 1666 his wife Catherine died. And it wasn’t until 1st November that the last victim of the plague was buried. The villagers burned furniture and bedding lest it might house the invisible killer. In total, 260 people had gone to their graves during the time of lockdown and quarantine. There are conflicting figures as to what percentage of the population the death toll represents, but it is certainly a lot.
One of the human stories you might find moving is that of Emmot Sydall, a young girl living in Eyam who, at the beginning of lockdown met her sweetheart Rowland Torre, a boy from another village, at the boundary. He begged her to come away with him to safety, but she said that she could not. She didn’t want to risk passing on the disease to him or to anyone else. They would meet when the plague was over, she said, and then they could marry. Rowland begged and pleaded with Emmot to go with him, but she resolutely went back into Eyam. When, 14 months later, Eyam’s church bell rang out the news that the plague had ended, one of the first visitors to the village was Rowland Torre, seeking the girl he was to marry. But she was dead.
The brave, selfless villagers of Eyam had given their lives rather than pass on the plague to their neighbours. They had given their lives but the plague was beaten. And the people of Eyam are remembered to this day. If you ever get the opportunity, do visit Eyam. It is a fascinating place, full of atmosphere – sadness, yes, but also peace. And there’s a good little plague museum.
So, as we try to get used to those face-coverings which we might regard as our equivalent of ‘a pocket full of posies’ – but not sweet-smelling, let’s end with a prayer taken from the Church of England’s little booklet ‘Prayers for use during the coronavirus outbreak’:
‘We are not people of fear:
We are people of courage.
We are people who protect our neighbours’ safety.
We are not people of greed:
We are people of generosity.
We are your people God,
Giving and loving,
Wherever we are,
Whatever it costs
For as long as it takes
Wherever you call us.
Canon Paul Hardingham considers the times of our lives
Eternity in the human heart
‘He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
The 60s hit ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’ by the Byrds is based on verses in this chapter: ‘There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.’ The different seasons of life are not random, for God is in control and His timing is perfect: ‘He has made everything beautiful in its time.’
The verse goes on to say that God ‘has also set eternity in the human heart.’ This means that we all have an in-built sense that there’s more to life than what we can see, as we search for meaning in life. However, we can fill our lives with other things: career, pleasure, shopping and relationships. While good in themselves, these things can never ultimately satisfy. It is only a relationship with God through Jesus that truly satisfies. How does this challenge us?
Firstly, we are to live for God in all that we do, knowing that it all counts for eternity. This includes helping others find a personal relationship with Jesus Christ for eternity.
Secondly, we accept that there is lots in the current ‘season’ where it’s difficult to know what God is doing: ‘no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.’ However, we do know that everything has consequences for eternity.
Finally, how can we be more aware of eternity every day? Spending time with God in worship and prayer will bring us the true pleasure that belongs to eternity.
‘You made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you. ’ (St Augustine).
As I watch
She climbs the steps steadily,
Holding the handrail,
Her two-year old feet following each other
To the platform at the top
Where she sits down
Holding tight to the sides,
Knees up, feet flat
She judders down a little way
Then looks up.
Her eyes meet my smile, my outstretched arms –
And she takes her hands off the edge of the slide,
Shooting forward with a squeal of delight,
Trusting the love she knows.
Lord, I have climbed so steadily,
I have come so far, in my own strength,
Holding on, holding back,
But I am your child,
I will lift my eyes
And meet your smile, your outstretched arms,
I will lift my juddering feet –
And take my hands off the edge of the slide
Released to ride, by your Spirit,
Into the freedom of your will,
Trusting the Love I know.
By Daphne Kitching
by Peter Crumpler, a Church of England priest in St Albans, Herts,
When Christ stood in Trafalgar Square
I’m not a big fan of statues – but my favourite was the life-sized figure of Christ that stood in London’s Trafalgar Square during the Millennium celebrations.
It stood on the square’s previously-empty fourth plinth, going almost unnoticed among the surrounding grand statues and with Nelson’s Column towering above it.
The statue, called Ecce Homo (Behold the Man), was built by conceptual artist Mark Wallinger and erected in 1999. He explained: “I consciously made Him life-size. We are made in God’s image, and He was made in our image.
“So for the statue to stand in contrast to the overgrown relics of empire was definitely part of the plan.”
The figure was made of white marble resin, and depicted Christ standing before the multitude with His head slightly bowed.
I found the statue of Christ deeply moving and kept returning to Trafalgar Square to stand and gaze at it.
Because to me, the statue declared Christ’s vulnerability. It stood as a reminder that the God of all creation came to earth as a man and lived among us. He gave up His life so that we might have salvation.
There, with London’s traffic rushing by, pigeons coming in to land, and tourists snapping photographs of each other, Christ stood unobtrusively. Standing, you could say, at the door of our consciousness, and asking to be let in.
In a BBC interview at the time, the artist said that he wanted the statue to be an antidote to the “spiritually empty celebration” then taking place at the Millennium Dome in Greenwich.
It certainly had a deep effect on me. In April 2017, the statue of Christ was placed on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral during Easter. Again, I watched as tourists passed by not noticing the figure. It was a modern-day parable in marble resin.
When the Apostle Paul took a stroll around Athens, he spotted the various altars and statues to the Greek gods. He found an altar ‘To an Unknown God’ and declared that this was “the God who made the world and everything in it” who had made Himself known in Jesus Christ.
Just as Mark Wallinger took possession of the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square for Jesus Christ – the reason for the Millennium celebrations – so Paul claimed the ‘unknown God’ altar in Athens for the Christian gospel.
The Bible has always been wary of putting people on pedestals. It shows us all sides of the people it describes, warts and all.
It tells us that Moses was a murderer, that David was an adulterer, that Paul persecuted the first Christians and that Peter denied Christ.
But all of us have feet of clay, and few of us deserve to be memorialised for centuries in stone or marble. Rather, we are gently encouraged to love God and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Maybe that’s the best way to make our mark in history.
HYMN: The story behind … JUST AS I AM
The hymn ‘Just As I Am’ must be one of the most famous in the world. It has been sung by tens of millions of Christians at Billy Graham Crusades the world over, just for starters! Yet it was not written by a professional who was ‘aiming’ at a specific market, as many songs seem to be written today. Instead, it was written by an artist in Victorian times.
Her name was Charlotte Elliott, and she was born in Clapham in 1789. She grew up in a well to do home, and became a portrait artist and also a writer of humorous verse. All was well until Charlotte fell ill in her early 30s, and slid into a black depression. A minister, Dr Caesar Malan of Switzerland, came to visit her. Instead of sympathising, he asked her an unexpected question: did she have peace with God? Charlotte deeply resented the question and told him to mind his own business.
But after he left, his question haunted her. Did she have peace with God? She knew that she did not, that she had done some very wrong things. So, she invited Dr Malan to return. She told him that she would like to become a Christian, but would have to sort out her life first.
Dr Malan again said the unexpected: “Come just as you are.” The words were a revelation to Charlotte. She had assumed that she would have to put her life in order before she could hope to be accepted by God. Instead, she realised that Jesus wanted her just as she was – and He would take care of the sin. Charlotte became a Christian that day.
14 years later, in 1836, Charlotte wrote some verses that summed up how it had been between her and Jesus that day. They ran:
as I am, without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bids’t me come to Thee
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
as I am, tho tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt
Fightings within, and fears without,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
Charlotte could not have dreamed that 150 years into the future, her verses would be sung by millions of people all over the world, as they responded to the Gospel presented at many great Billy Graham crusades, and made their way forward to do just as the hymn describes – to come to Jesus Christ, despite sin and fear and doubts, to come ‘just as I am.’
Canon David Winter is feeling very solitary just now…
THE WAY I SEE IT: What have you missed most during lockdown?
It’s a good question, because it is about the things that make us tick. When I examined my list, I found obvious things – going to church, live sport on TV, meeting up with friends for a coffee or a beer.
But as I thought more deeply about it, I realised that what I missed most was TOUCH. For nearly four months I have not touched another human being!
That is an astonishing deprivation. When a baby is born, its first experiences are all of touch. The strong hands of the midwife, mother’s excited and loving embrace, tiny hands reaching out to feel mummy’s face. We touch our way into life.
And then it goes on. Holding hands with friends, being hugged by grandma, your first serious kiss, and perhaps a last tearful one at the end of a much-loved life.
We greet each other with a holy kiss, the Bible says. And why not?
Sight, smell, hearing and touch. Four senses. And I think lockdown has taught me that the greatest of these is touch!
Your ‘corona bubble’
So, you’ve been teaming up with others outside your immediate household. How it is going with them? As bubbles hopefully get bigger soon, here are some ‘types’ of people whom you might consider adding….
The kind neighbours: They are the one whom you instinctively think of when you hit a domestic crisis, like running out of milk or needing a lift to the station. Such people are treasures, and well worth befriending.
The cheerful friend: They are wonderful beacons of light just now. They face the coronavirus threat with calm and optimism, helping you deal with your fear that nothing will never be ‘right’ again.
The VERY clean friend: She’s been making face masks for months now and is generous in offering them to one and all. She has stockpiled sanitiser and can measure social distance to the centimetre at a glance. In these uncertain times, she is the one person you KNOW will never give you the virus.
The long-time friend: You’ve been through so much together already, from college to pre-marriage days to that disastrous holiday in Spain. You can’t not go through coronavirus together now! Your old friends will help you keep the current crisis in perspective, as they can be relied on for a ‘remember the good old days’ session.
St James the Least
My dear Nephew Darren
When the churches reopen for public worship (whenever that is!) I hope you will come and take Evensong one Sunday. But, thinking of your visit last August, I would prefer you used the pulpit when preaching. How could Colonel Brockle complete ‘The Times’ crossword and Miss Balmer her knitting with you constantly walking up and down in front of them? They found it most disconcerting, as out of politeness, they were obliged to listen to you. It was a unique experience they do not wish to repeat.
Those few who defy Anglican tradition and sit at the front of the church were also placed in the dilemma of trying to decide whether they should keep turning in their pews as you paraded down the nave and then rotating back to the front as you re-emerged up the side aisle. It did Lady Plumptree’s vertigo no good at all. It also allowed people to see that you were wearing suede shoes. For many of our worshippers, the most appalling of heresies are as nothing when compared to brown shoes under a cassock.
I appreciate you made heroic efforts and got your sermon down to 30 minutes, but that is still 20 minutes longer than they anticipated and 29 minutes longer than their attention span.
No, use the pulpit in future; that is the reason why stonemasons 600 years ago put twenty tons of marble in our church in the first place and it would be a shame to disappoint them. It also means that from a distance of 100 yards and a height of 20 feet, no one can tell that the glass of water I use liberally while preaching is in fact a gin and tonic.
I concede that our pulpit has its dangers. I have known several bishops come to grief as their robes wrap themselves around the newel post as they ascend the steps. One, unable to untangle himself, was obliged to preach while half-way up the steps and with his back to the congregation, while our verger was dispatched to find a pair of scissors.
Perhaps, before your next visit, we may install a mechanical floor in the pulpit, so that after 10 minutes, it slowly lowers you into the crypt while the congregation can get on with singing the last hymn before getting home in decent time.
Your loving uncle,
What am I?
A teacher gave her young class a lesson on Zoom. It was about the magnet, and what it does. The next day in a short test, she included this question: “My full name has six letters. The first one is M. I am strong and attractive. I pick up lots of things. What am I?”
When the answers were sent in, the teacher was astonished to find that more than half her students had answered the question with the word: “Mother.”
Noah opened up the ark and let all the animals out, telling them to “Go forth and multiply!” He began to close the great doors of the ark when he noticed that there were two snakes still sitting in a dark corner. Concerned, he said to them: “Didn’t you hear me? You can go now. Go forth and multiply.”
“We can’t,” said the snakes sadly. “We’re adders.”
Sick of preaching
Our new vicar had just been prescribed bifocals. The reading portion of the glasses improved his vision considerably, but the top portion of the glasses didn’t work so well. In fact, he was experiencing dizziness every time he looked through them. He tried to explain this to the congregation on Sunday: “I hope you will excuse my continually removing my glasses. You see, when I look down, I can see fine, but when I look at you all, it makes me feel sick.”