ALDOUS HUXLEY, the 50th anniversary of whose death falls next
week, once said: "Of all the worn, smudged, dog-eared words in our
vocabulary, 'love' is surely the grubbiest, smelliest, slimiest."
But I sometimes wonder whether "community" isn't close behind.
The concepts for which the word is used often melt down on close
analysis: Community Police, Community Care - even, if you are old
enough to remember it, Community Charge. There may still be a "gay
community", but these days only in the sense that there is a
So it is with some trepidation that I have to report that these
past few weeks have brought a few vivid experiences of community
beyond scare quotes.
ON 23 October, the Bishop of Nandyal, in the Church of South
India, the Rt Revd Eggoni Pushpalalitha, the first woman bishop in
India, returned to her home village in triumph. Historically,
aspiring Nandikotkur scholars leave and make lives in Hyderabad,
Bangalore, or Chennai. Not this one.
It was the experience of a lifetime to accompany her.
Umbrellas waved in driving rain. Firecrackers exploded wantonly,
some perilously close by. Tuk-tuks parped joyous dit-dit-dits. The
raucous village band played on, deafening drums pulsing sheer
energy as teenage boys flung gangly limbs rhythmically in random
directions for an Indian form of break dance.
I have visited Indian villages with dignitaries who received
six, or even seven garlandings. On this occasion, I think I counted
42 from village elders, schoolfriends, and assorted admirers.
Real community is coming home, with joy from the heart. It
cannot be imposed or denied, not even by the fag end of a
THE Benedictine community of Saint-Wandrille, in Normandy, has
nestled in a rural valley by the Seine since AD 649.
The community has been ejected three times - once by Vikings,
again in the French Revolution, and finally in 1905 - but such
service interruptions have been comparatively few and far between.
Here, just over 100 years ago, Abbé Joseph Pothier revived the
proper use of plainsong.
The community offices are generally oases of peace and calm; so
it was a bit of a shock to the system when 500 people suddenly
turned up to church here. But they do at Toussaint. The French make
a great deal of this as a time to visit family graves, sometimes
What moved me particularly this year, however, was another new
appearance in the church, a Mise au tombeau - a life-size
tableau of Jesus being taken from cross to grave. This has recently
been moved out of storage and restored.
These tableaux can be found all over Normandy, and were all the
rage 500 years ago. Many capture the shock of grief, sometimes with
figures throwing their arms around as though they had been
The Saint-Wandrille piece is less dramatic, with calm figures
who radiate courage rather than grief. I swear some of the faces
would have been recognisable to the community when it was first
installed in the church; from the inscription, we learn that this
was in 1506, at the behest of the Prior, William LaVieille, who
bids the visitor, in quaint old French, "Pries Dieu Pour
I did, reflecting that real community reaches across time and
makes people from long ago live again. These figures, with their
faded original colours, bring memory to life. Near by, mass is said
daily, proclaiming the death and resurrection of which Prior
William's tableau is only a pale shadow.
SO TO the market square at Aylesbury on Sunday, and the Bucks
county Remembrance service.
This was a brilliant clear November morning, crisp and shiny.
People of all ages seem to be participating in Remembrance services
more and more, and the large market-square was almost full.
One or two people at the gathering afterwards spoke of the
reuniting of the young singer with her naval father at the Albert
Hall the night before as their lump-in-the-throat moment this
The English are increasingly developing lumps in the throat
about Remembrance, and not just for fallen servicepeople. Most
roads in the county now have impromptu shrines to road-death
victims: bundles of cards, flowers, and toys.
Perhaps the historic stiff upper lip is slipping. We could be
growing more Continental solidarity with our dead. We will remember
them, and, as we do so, our feelings often show.
Real community is about knowing that we belong to others on a
more than symbolic level. It is produced by deep feeling, not
publicity agencies. It bridges the dividing gulf of time, and even
death, and is not afraid of showing itself in public.
If the Church can find ways to articulate and catalyse this kind
of community, we should have an exciting future after all.
Dr Alan Wilson is the Bishop of Buckingham.