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Diary: Graham James

19 August 2022

ISTOCK

They also serve

IT IS only six years since David Cameron was Prime Minister, but it feels like a distant age. The media then seemed to create an obligation for the Prime Minister to take a summer holiday in Britain rather than flee abroad.

During the Camerons’ summer break in 2010, their fourth child was born at the hospital in Truro. Florence Rose Endellion Cameron owes her third name to the north Cornish village near their holiday home at the time; St Endellion briefly made the front pages of the newspapers. I’ve been there several times recently, and want to sing its praises — “sing” being exactly the right word.

In 1958, a musical priest, Roger Gaunt, brought some friends to St Endellion. They helped to renovate the rectory (then in a dire state) and, while doing so, put on some concerts in the church. They started a tradition. The 63rd Summer Festival concluded earlier this month after ten days of concerts, opera, and services.

The Festival flourishes. Perhaps its secret is that no one is paid: everyone mucks in, as they did in those early days. There are lavatories to be cleaned, and there’s washing-up to be done, as well as music to be made. Amateurs in the orchestra and chorus perform alongside professional conductors, soloists, and musicians of considerable distinction — all there simply for the love of it, forming a lively community.

A production of Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes this year will stay in my mind. The tenor Mark Padmore inhabited the title character so completely that it felt like an incarnation. I was told that Mark took a few hours to emerge fully from the role. No wonder the whole place speaks of the relationship between the arts and the Christian faith. After the conclusion of many evening performances, compline is sung by candlelight.

 

All together now

THE opening concert included George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, with Ethan Iverson, the jazz pianist, improvising brilliantly, while the conductor Emilie Godden brought in the orchestra at exactly the right moments with astonishing anticipation.

Parish clergy are sometimes compared with conductors of orchestras. It’s never seemed quite the right image, since conductors are silent leaders (at least during performances), whereas clergy are heard rather a lot. Until about 1800, the conductor usually also played an instrument. Perhaps clergy lead best from within their orchestra/church. That feels rather more incarnational — although, at St Endellion, even the conductors are not exempt from the washing-up; so they may argue that they are incarnational enough.

 

Bishop’s move

ST ENDELLION is a collegiate church with, from the 13th century onwards, four prebends. Somehow, the glebe and tithes for the prebends remained intact at the Reformation. Probably this oversight was the result of its remote location. It enabled the whole thing to linger on through the centuries.

In 1929, Walter Frere — the Mirfield Father who was then Bishop of Truro — gave St Endellion a new lease of life with some revised statutes. The prebendaries (apart from the incumbent) no longer had a stipend, but came to teach and preach, and prayed for each other. In his great book on collegiate churches, Paul Jeffery describes the survival of the college in this form at St Endellion as “unique”. Today, Rowan Williams is among the prebendaries; I’m told that he, too, can be found washing up or shifting furniture when he’s around.

 

Long-lost family

ENDELLION (or Endelienta in Latin) is said to have been one of the saintly offspring of Brychan, a sixth-century Welsh prince. Depending on your source, Brychan is said to have fathered anything between 12 and 63 saints, with the usual number settling at 24. It makes one feel inadequate.

Unfortunately, in The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, David Hugh Farmer describes Brychan as “legendary”, which puts a damper on things. Nowadays, though, someone whose exploits are stupendous is frequently called “a legend” but that does not cast doubt on their existence.

It is possible that this plethora of holy ones issued from different generations, but shared a similar ancestry. Who knows? Whatever their connection with the legendary Brychan, many of his putative children found their way to Cornwall and gave their names to many churches and villages — not only Endelienta, but Teath, Minver, Clether, Nectan, and about ten others. A “legend” indeed.

 

Temps perdu

FIFTY years ago, I was about to begin my theological training at Cuddesdon. If Mr Cameron’s premiership seems to have been a different age, that was a different universe. We were nearly all single young males, with a sprinkling of married men, most of whom lived in cottages in the village — a few of which had no bathroom (though they did have lavatories and hot running water). The wives were permitted to come into the college to take baths while we students were in church at evensong.

We have come a long way since then. Looking back, our communal life was probably much more as it would have been in 1922 than it is in 2022. Six of us formed a cell as we left the college in 1975, and we’ve met every six months since. We are all now retired, but still write something to share when we get together. This time, the themes included the Cross in art, the music of William Henry Harris, and a reflection on the Levant.

Whatever the weaknesses of our theological training all those years ago, we were inspired with a broad spiritual curiosity that has sustained us over five decades. Much to be thankful for.

 

The Rt Revd Graham James is a former Bishop of Norwich and now an honorary assistant bishop in the diocese of Truro.

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