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Gazette >

324 years and still preaching


JUST £4 a year to pay two visiting preachers no longer covers their expenses, let alone “gratifies them”, in the sense it was meant, but the sermons still go on.

Sir Ralph Assheton, patron of St Leonard’s in the estate village of Downham in rural Blackburn diocese, left that sum in his will when he died on 30 January 1680. He wanted visiting preachers on two Sundays of the year, on 5 February and “on the day of the month it shall please God to call me from this transitory life”; and he left two possible texts for each sermon.

His hope was that “two able ministers” would preach “onely for the better occasioning of a fuller congregation of people being willing, for the most parte, to heare strangers rather than their owne (though perhaps better)”.

The new Priest-in-Charge, the Revd Rodney Nicholson, tells me that the tradition has been kept up without a break, and the 324th Assheton Sermon was preached at a service of matins this year on the exact anniversary of Sir Ralph’s death by the Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Nicholas Reade. He used the text from the Book of Job, “I know that my redeemer liveth,” and — just as Sir Ralph hoped — the church was full. The congregation of 150, says Mr Nicholson, included many members of the Prayer Book Society.


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