Monday 10 March 2008

Carpenter inspires joiners in Ashendon

Ashendon, high on the end of a ridge in historic Bernwode, feels as though it’s on top of the world. You can see for miles. In Saxon times it was a fortress against the Danes. King Ethelred died at the Battle of Ashendon in 872, and in 1016 Adnoth, Bishop of Dorchester was slain by the Danes here. By the time of the Doomsday Book it was a substantial settlement which gave its name to the whole hundred (in Lord of the Rings speak). The village may well be smaller in population terms today. St Mary’s is still at the heart of the village, and a flourishing part of the Bernwode benefice. It was a joy to share in worship with Tina Stirling, the incumbent, who has a real gift for drawing people together and helping them pray and celebrate.
From the outside St Mary’s nestles into the top of the hill and looks quite small. This hides a noble and lofty 13th century interior, complete with Crusader tomb. In the 1920’s a naughty churchwarden excavated the North wall and found this amazing construction behind the plaster — a sacrament chapel, or anchorite’s chamber, perhaps.

John Boughton, churchwarden, has special place in my heart and my prayers for various reasons.
  1. John’s the longest serving Churchwarden in Bucks — over 50 years — from a family who have farmed near the Church and provided churchwardens for 500 years.
  2. John made my crook, pride of a hundred primary school assemblies, and faithful companion on my travels.
  3. John has just made a new Bishop’s Chair in Ashendon Church, to replace one that was stolen a while ago. It fits immaculately into St Mary’s, localised by a Buckinghamshire chained swan panel on the front.

In a society that by and large is going gaga and losing its grip on corporate memory, I am still deeply moved to minister in places with this kind of resonance and continuous tradition of prayer, craftsmanship and service. I don’t suppose our forebears were any better or worse Christians than us — equally confused, compromised, fearful and stumbling. Yet they made it through the Danish wars and the Black Death — perhaps, in God’s mercy, we’ll make through the summer!

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