This derelict chapel is lost in the Herefordshire countryside. The church at nearby Richard’s Castle is no longer in regular use for worship. Has God abandoned the Marches (the Welsh/English border country) or have the Marches abandoned God?
It’s more complex than that. People have gone. Farm work is done mechanically; the railways that employed thousands have closed or greatly reduced the number of workers, and so on. But also people have indeed turned away from Sunday worship.
This chapel was built around 1810 by local people who responded to the Methodist Revival led by the Wesleys. They wanted to live the Christian life more fully and when they were cold-shouldered by the established Church of England, they erected chapels that look as much like dwelling places as churches. Other groups were also building ‘dissenting’ chapels, like the Baptists and Congregationalists. One of my ancestors is believed to have ministered at Bethel Chapel in nearby Evenjobb, across the border in Wales.
It is a shame to see the building abandoned, the lawn gone to nettles, brambles, and buttercups – we can welcome the buttercups, but the others will soon be preventing people from entering. It is unloved. Perhaps no descendants of the worshippers live nearby, or they don’t know about the chapel, perhaps they don’t care.
So do we Christians pack up and go home? Or do we try to tune ourselves to Christ, live as he would do, in season or out of season?
In a final plug for Rowan WIlliams’s Luminaries, a few words from his reflection on Archbishop Michael Ramsey.
You’re free to offer God’s love quite independently of your own security or success. Sometimes the world may be in tune and sometimes not; sometimes there is a real symbiosis, sometimes a violent collision. But the labour continues, simply because the rightness of the service does not depend on what the world thinks it wants and whether the world believes it has got what it needs from the Church. (p116).
A meal in the garden in the company of friends is a great blessing, one Mrs T and I shared recently in Wales. Good local food well cooked. Our friend’s granddaughter has a chef for a brother and she seems to share his love for cooking – one passed down the generations!
There was talk of the brother as well, of course, of cabbages and kings. The lad takes a pride in his work, to the extent that he has persuaded his bosses to buy butcher’s meat and fresh fruit and vegetables so that he could prepare better meals at no extra cost. He is feeding young people on activity holidays.
‘And now, instead of frozen, ground down whatever and jars of sauce, they have spaghetti Bolognese with proper, lean minced beef and sauce from scratch.’
I hope you enjoy a few outdoor meals this summer, and that the cooks enjoy them as well as the diners. The next day was bread and cheese for just the two of us, halfway up a hill in Herefordshire, near Saint John Kemble’s home. That was enjoyable too: we’d walked up an appetite!
Conversation and a meal go hand in hand, It’s not difficult to see why many Christian Churches, like us Catholics, have the Last Supper as the centre – or source and summit – of worship, as it was the source and summit of John Kemble’s life. Time to listen to God and address our prayers to him, as well as to receive Communion. May our week’s activities work up an appetite for his Table.
Fragments of clay pipes often turn up when digging in England and Wales. Trevor, the old gardener I worked with in Wales, told me how they were sold at low prices, or even given away, by pubs to valued customers, which explained a cache in one corner of the churchyard we were restoring. The drinkers at The Three Salmons snapped their old pipes and threw them over the wall, where I found them many years later. This one is from Canterbury; a little unusual with its laurel leaf decoration. It set me thinking of John Kemble, the Martyr of the Marches.
Herefordshire is a long way from London, and the local gentry often turned a blind eye to the work of Catholic priests, even when they were officially deemed traitors. And in all honesty who would organise an invasion or coup d’etat from such a rural inland area?
John Kemble himself was from a landed family that was largely Catholic. He was ordained in France in 1625 and returned to work in his home area either side of the Anglo-Welsh border. For more than fifty years he travelled around Hereford and Monmouth ministering to the local Catholics and keeping a low profile until he was accused of being part of a non-existent Popish Plot to overthrow King Charles II in favour of his Catholic brother, James Duke of York.
This time the magistrates had to arrest him and despatch him to London where he was cleared of the plot but still found guilty of treason and sent back to Hereford to be hung drawn and quartered.
On 22 August 1679 he sat down with the executioner and bystanders for a last pipe and pint before his death, comforting his executioner: “Honest Anthony, my friend Anthony, be not afraid; do thy office. I forgive thee with all my heart. Thou wilt do me a greater kindness than discourtesy.”
So, although this 3cm of clay pipe is really no sort of relic at all of Saint John Kemble, it brings him to mind: his half century of dedicated ministry and his courage and care for others at the time of his death. And I’m counting it as a relic for the blog!