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Word from Wormingford

05 June 2015

Ronald Blythe believes he can hear parochial voices calling

RETURNED from Loch Rannoch wanderings, and having missed the flower festival, a hanging offence, I remember that it was at Trinity in 1739 that John Wesley defended his absenteeism with that now famous line, "I look upon all the world as my parish." It was in a letter to a friend who was urging him to settle down and not meddle "in other men's parishes".

His meddling at that moment was in Somerset, where the childlike, artless love of the people enchanted him. In this letter, Wesley reminded his friend that there was no place in the world, Christian or heathen, which was not "after a sort, divided into parishes"; so that to speak of Christ anywhere was an encroachment on localised religion.

But what had made Wesley touchy was another letter beseeching him to return to London, "our brethren in Fetter-Lane being in great confusion, for want of my presence and advice". Guilt. Our parish may be the world, but our parochiality refuses to be boundless.

Indeed, it requires an impressive degree of selflessness to allow it to sweep across the borders of the average united benefice - a fairly recent bit of diocesan fiddle-faddle, of course, for whenever during their long, adjacent histories were Wormingford, Mount Bures, and Little Horkesley united? That is the last thing they were. As they say, however: "We are all one in Him." Christianity certainly makes us reckless.

I catch up on parish news - from each parish its own news. Just as I thought, it is sensational. It has to be. A parochial prerogative is that things must happen the minute one turns one's back, and they have.

I salvage from my store of appropriate reactions the stunned expression of a parishioner returned from a week's holiday. A nave ceiling painted blue, the cake-stall a gold mine, the hymns I had chosen for "Songs of Praise" with lots of verses omitted, "otherwise we'd be singing them still." The churchwarden, "He won't like it; he says the words are poems." But he understands - isn't he parochial?

What does amaze me is the garden. Left trim and just in bud, I come home to find it modelling for Monet, and the cat high on pollen. My new rose "John Clare" is in bloom. Clare, the ultimate parish voice of England, the poet who made its limitations illimitable.

He also wrote that touching hymn "The Stranger", in which Christ is the outcast villager forced to leave human boundaries. Clare was both a prisoner and the free spirit of parochialism, both confined and yet soaring. A line from his hymn: "The blind met daylight in His eye."


Ronald Blythe's column for this issue was unable to appear because of technical difficulties. This substitute is from 16 June 1995.

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