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Prestbury Parish Magazine

March 2012

Cover photograph:
Cheltenham Racecourse 
by Frances Murton 


What’s Next

Farewell to Fr David

The Revd John Suddards

Notice of Prestbury APCM

Burns Night

Compline at St Mary’s during Lent

Report from the Diocesan Synod

Malawi Talk by Richard Barton

Fundraiser wanted!

Scouts Planning for Jubilee

Prestbury Memorial Trust News


‘Simply Vicky’

An Email from Australia

Irish Cathedrals – Part 2


Some articles from this month's magazine have been included elsewhere in the web site:

The Registers

The Calendar for this month

The Diary for this month


What’s Next?

For nearly four years we have been fellow travellers on life’s road, and on the afternoon of Easter Day at St Nicolas’ we shall have the opportunity to bid each other farewell. Instead of dwelling on our leave-taking with sadness or regret, let us take this transition as an opportunity to reflect on our journey together, and to think about what might lie ahead for me, for you, and for us all.

‘Let no one despise you for your youth... devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.’ (1 Timothy 4:12-13)

Well, you have provided me with opportunities to preach and lead worship, and together with positive critical feedback, I have become more accomplished at both than I was when I arrived. Thank you. I take with me to Richmond the responsibility to continue to develop my skills as a preacher, better able to help congregations engage with and explore Biblical texts and God’s will for our common life.

Jesus said ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ (Matthew 4:4)

Shortly after I arrived, a few people said that they would like a Bible study group accessible by foot from Prestbury village, and which would meet in daylight. That group of sometimes just two or three individuals has continued to meet almost every week for the last two years, and has nine members. They have grown in confidence and ability, to the extent that they no longer need weekly input from a ‘professional’ minister. As I come to leave, we have a request from a recent arrival for another Bible Study group that meets on a day other than Wednesday; who will step up to this request?

‘If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.’ (John 15:7)

One part of the Vision we have developed together has been in reference to our local communities. We have been asking questions about who make up our communities, what their needs and desires are, and how we can connect with them. A major focus of this work has so far been identified as prayer. Sarah and I thank you for your prayers and support over the last few years; they have been indispensable.

As one of the spiritual tools available to us wherever we go, prayer is possibly the one we are least confident in using, yet also potentially one of the most effective, especially when taken in light of the words of Jesus quoted above, and reaffirmed in these words from St Paul:

‘Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.’ (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Fr David




Farewell to Fr David

Fr David’s last Sunday here will be 8th April, which is Easter Sunday. There will be a ‘Farewell Tea Party’ in St Nicolas’ Hall from 3.30pm. This will be an opportunity for everyone from across the North Cheltenham Team Ministry to say ‘thank you’ and ‘farewell’ to Fr David and Sarah. During the afternoon, in addition to tea, there will be a time for presentations and (brief!) speeches. The afternoon will conclude with a short service of farewell and blessing. This will be the only evening service in Prestbury on that day but there will be time, if people wish, to attend Choral Evensong for Easter Day in either All Saints’ or St Lawrence at 6.30pm. Please put this important date in your diary!

Fr David will be licensed as Team Vicar in the Richmond Team Ministry on Monday 30th April at 7.30pm. Arrangements are being made for a coach to take people to the service and details of this will be published through the weekly notice sheet.

Fr Michael





The Revd John Suddards

As a Team Ministry we mourn the recent violent death of the Revd John Suddards, which reminds us of the vulnerable nature of ministry in our communities today. Our prayers go out to the people of Thornbury, including his curate, the Revd Bruce Goodwin, who was on placement in North Cheltenham a few years ago.

Bishop John writes: ‘I was deeply shocked and saddened to hear the news of John’s death in tragic circumstances. I had been due to meet him for a review of his ministry over these first few months here…. As a diocese it is our concern to be close to both the church community and the wider community of Thornbury as they seek to come to terms with this tragedy. Our hearts go out to John’s family and friends as they come to terms with this personal loss.’

John came to us from the Diocese of Chelmsford six months ago where he had a significant ministry as an Area Dean and parish priest. He was a person who cared deeply for people and there was a sense of excitement about this next phase in the life of their Team Ministry. It may be some weeks or months before a funeral can take place so Bishop Michael visited on the evening of Friday 17th February for a special service and continues to support local people during this incredibly difficult time.

Fr Daniel




Notice of Prestbury APCM – 22nd April 2012

The Annual Parochial Church Meeting, which follows the Annual Meeting of Parishioners, will take place on Sunday 22nd April at St Mary’s Church at 6.30pm. This is a chance to come to hear a review and reports of what has taken place during the last year, together with plans for the future and an opportunity to ask questions.

At the meeting elections to the Parochial Church Council (PCC) take place. Nominations for PCC members will be displayed on the notice boards of both churches for at least the two Sundays prior to the meeting. Candidates must be proposed and seconded by a person who is on the Electoral Roll of the parish and they should also be asked if they are willing to stand! Please may I ask all those people who provide reports for the meeting to let me have them by Sunday 25th March, or before if possible? Many thanks.

The Annual Meeting of Parishioners, which begins at 6.30pm, is a short meeting to elect Churchwardens: two for St Mary’s and two for St Nicolas’. Candidates must be nominated and seconded before the meeting begins and nomination lists will also be displayed on the notice boards of both churches. Anyone who lives within the parish or who is on the church electoral roll may attend and vote at this meeting.

Debbie Forbes, PCC Secretary



The Parochial Church Council acts like the trustees of a charity, making important decisions about the running of the church throughout the year. For more information speak to Fr Daniel or any of the clergy.


Parish Electoral Roll

The Parish Electoral Roll has nothing to do with political elections. The Church of England is run democratically and therefore each parish has its own Electoral Roll. Joining it does not oblige you in any way, but it does give you the opportunity to be more involved in the running of the church.

To be on the Electoral Roll you have to be:

  • baptised (christened)
  • a member of the Church of England
  • living in the parish or regularly attending worship in the parish for at least six months
  • at least 16 years old

If you have any questions about this please speak to one of the clergy or churchwardens or Brian Wood.  Application forms to be admitted to the Prestbury Parish Electoral Roll are available in church and on this parish website.

To be entitled to attend the next Annual Parochial Church Meeting (APCM) and to take part in its proceedings, you need to have returned your application form to Brian Wood by Sunday 1st April 2012. A few weeks before this date I will post in church the names of those already on the roll. Please check you are listed and your address is correct.

Brian Wood, Electoral Roll officer



Burns Night

Burns Night came early in Uckington Village Hall when the North Cheltenham Team Ministry put on an event on 21st January. Two team members Lynda Hodges (Prestbury) and Sarah Jones (Elmstone Hardwicke) came together to organise a fantastic traditional Burns Night Supper.

It had all the customary Bill o’ Fare of Cock-A-Leekie Soup, Haggis with Tatties and Neeps followed by Tipsy Laird Dessert, washed down with whisky or wine. We were treated to the sound of bagpipes played by Piper Sandy Walker (who gained fame by playing in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral), as he led the Haggis carried by Roger Hodges around all the tables before the toast to the Haggis given by Mr Tom Kerr. Tom Kerr gave the assembled guests a full rendition, in full highland brogue, of Tam o’ Shanter, hardly pausing to draw breath. A tribute to Robert Burns was given by Father David Gardiner, looking resplendent in full Highland dress and all that goes with it. A toast to the Lassies was given by David Williams using a poem written by Father David’s grampa – considered to be ‘unfit for genteel company’.

The evening was still young and we were treated to more piping and graceful dancing by the Royal Scottish Country Dancing Society – Cheltenham Branch with their demonstration team. The dinner guests were invited to take the floor and join in with more dancing with Mrs Walker acting as caller. Of course the evening concluded with the singing of Auld Lang Syne.

Canon Michael Cozens led the vote of thanks, especially to Lynda, who had worked tirelessly in the kitchen, and to Sarah for getting the entertainment together and also for all their helpers. The evening raised £320 for the Christian Aid Zimbabwe Appeal.

David Williams


The Evolution of the North Cheltenham Burns Supper

The mailings from Christian Aid often give ideas for fund raising and last autumn a Burns Supper was on the list. I mentioned this to Lynda who thought, made some enquiries and said ‘yes, it will work’. Through her work in the team she has contacts in the different churches and knew that Sarah Jones in Elmstone Hardwick is a keen Scottish Country Dancer. Sarah arranged for her friends to help and I am sure that we could not have done the evening without them. Not only did they provide the demonstration dances but they then dragged us on to the floor so that as the evening progressed the floor was always full. Thanks to her and the team and particularly to Tom who expertly addressed the haggis and Sandy whose pipes heralded its entrance. Thank you all very much from all of us. Thanks also to the various participants who undertook the required speeches.

My biggest thanks must be to Lynda and the band of helpers in preparing food and also assisting on the night. We managed to sell just over fifty tickets, which for that hall was comfortable, though we had planned for eighty. Even so I was still able to bank £320 into the Cheltenham Christian Aid account, which will be used in a new project as the advertised Zimbabwe appeal had reached its target and was closed. I will let you know if I receive any news.

Roger Hodges



Roger Hodges and Fr David

Photographs by Brian Wood



Compline at St Mary’s during Lent

Bishop Michael is again asking us to ensure that our church buildings are prayed in every day during Lent. Our normal pattern of Morning and Evening Prayer and the Eucharist means that we only have to add one extra service, in St Mary’s on a Tuesday. This year we are again using the service of Compline at 9pm on Tuesdays. Compline, meaning ‘completion’, is a short service which draws the day to a close. Simple chants will be used with prayers and short readings.

Why not decide to add an extra service to your pattern during Lent? ‘Taking something on’ is a good way of drawing closer to God during this holy season.

Fr Michael




Report from the Diocesan Synod meeting on 4th February  2012

Most of the morning was spent discussing ‘The Anglican Covenant’. The Revd Canon Dr Charlotte Methuen, Canon Theologian, explained the salient points of the Covenant which followed from the Windsor Report of 2004 which was produced in response to the tensions within the Anglican Communion which came to a head following the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Jersey in the USA. Canon Methuen explained that the Covenant had set out to address the challenges within the Anglican Communion of living together, of mutual accountability and of how different cultures might listen to each other in a process of shared discernment.

The Covenant is in four sections. The first three sections set out the beliefs which we share as Anglicans with regard to the Holy Bible, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our commitment to Him and His teaching, the marks of Mission and our mutual love and respect for each other as fellow Anglicans. The fourth section is the most controversial and sets out a framework for the resolution of disputes. It is proposed that a standing committee should be established by the existing controlling bodies of the Anglican Communion, that is the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates Meeting. This Standing Committee would listen to problems, seek guidance, opinions and advice and take this back to the disagreeing parties. It is not a disciplinary body, but an arbitrator whose advice can be accepted or rejected. Should a Province decide to opt out of the Covenant it is completely free to do so and this would not exclude it from the Anglican Communion as a whole. It is acknowledged that this will not answer all problems but it was felt by the authors of the document that it would go a long way to improve the current situation and avoid acrimony in future.

The Diocesan Synod debated the Covenant at some length with speakers in favour pointing out the underlying intention to create an Anglican framework for belonging whilst speakers against the Covenant expressed concerns about a move away from self-governance and too great an emphasis on resolving disputes. The Synod had to vote in its three Houses (Laity, Clergy and Bishops) on the motion to approve the draft act of Synod adopting the Anglican Communion Covenant, but the motion was lost, rejected in the House of Laity and the House of Clergy. The Covenant is being debated by all the Dioceses of the Church of England and across the whole of the Anglican Communion and at this stage it is not clear what process will be taken if it is rejected.

The rest of the Diocesan Synod agenda consisted of a presentation from members of the Children and Young People’s Department about including children and young people in our church life. A brief presentation included this quote from a young person: ‘we are disciples now, not just disciples in waiting’. Synod members briefly discussed the changes happening in their parishes to ensure that young people were ‘ministers in training’ and how their local churches were making a greater contribution to the lives of young people: challenging questions for us to ask here in Prestbury. The Synod then affirmed the work of those engaged in youth development across the diocese and encouraged parishes to identify opportunities for working with young people.

Lynda Hodges, Diocesan Synod member




Malawi Talk by Richard Barton

On the evening of Thursday 19th January a select group of about twenty five people listened to the MACS chairman explain the aims and work in Malawi. After the talk we were able to discuss with Richard various aspects of the charity over wine and nibbles, my thanks again to Lynda for preparing this. Also thanks to Richard for driving here from Canterbury. He had a busy weekend giving another talk to Year 8 pupils at Beaudesert School, Minchinhampton, on Friday, attending the Burns supper and giving two addresses at the two main services in Tewkesbury Abbey on Sunday.

The evening raised £134 in the retiring collection which will be added to the fund for items requested by Nkope Health Centre.

Roger Hodges



Spectacles for Malawi

Thank you for your continued donations of old glasses which over the year has built up to equal last year’s quantity. I am in the process of checking them and they will be loaded in this year’s container in Birmingham on 23rd March. Please keep them coming; there is a box in St Nicolas’ and the one at St Mary’s seems to have come to rest in front of the choir vestry.

Roger Hodges



Fundraiser wanted!

PPY, the charity which runs the youth work in the North Cheltenham Team Ministry, is looking for someone who can take on the role of fundraiser. The role will involve planning, preparing and making application for funds to grant-making trusts and other similar bodies. The work can be done from home (with a computer and internet access) and PPY can pay for up to 5 hours per week. This role is really crucial to the future of our youth work and so if you are able to help us, or know someone who can, please contact

Fr Michael Cozens.




Scouts Planning for Jubilee

The 1st Prestbury Scout Group are continuing with their fundraising activities to refurbish the Scout hut and field. The group will be actively supporting the Prestbury Jubilee Fete in the village on the 4th June 2012. The Group have been asked to provide the food/refreshments at the event. The Scout Group is excited about being involved and currently looking for volunteers to be part of a team to plan and prepare for occasion. All willing volunteers who would like to work with us will be appreciated!

We are keen for the Jubilee event to be a success and as a consequence the Exec committee (Parents and Leaders) of the Scout Group have decided to put the Annual Scout Jumble Sale on hold to enable our energy and resources to be channelled into making the Jubilee Event a successful and memorable one.

Any textile items (clothing, towels, bedding, shoes, bags or soft toys) can still be donated to the Group and will be recycled and money received will continue to boost our funds. Please bag your donations and drop off at the Scout hut.

Please contact Linda Jackson by email on 1stprestbury(at) if you are able to help support us with our ‘Fun and Fundraising’!

Thank You

Linda Jackson, Group Scout Leader



Prestbury Memorial Trust News

Spring is nearly here and our programme of minibus and coach outings will soon be underway. Our spring coach outing is scheduled for Wednesday 28th March. We start with a mystery trip around the county and finish with a special afternoon tea provided by the ladies of Avening WI.

Just a reminder that the Trust runs, door to door, weekly minibus grocery shopping trips on Tuesdays. Sainsbury in the morning and Tesco in the afternoon.

We are planning a series of table top sales and car boot sales to boost our funds. Any donations of suitable sale items would be very welcome. We will come and collect if need be. Also tables/stalls are available for £5.00. Our first sale will be held in the Prestbury Hall, Bouncers Lane, from 1pm to 3pm on Saturday 17th March. Hot drinks and refreshments will be available. Look out for our posters.

The Trust is very dependent on volunteers. If you have some spare time please come and join us. We need volunteer car and minibus drivers and people to help out with our various groups.

Did you know that the Warden’s Bungalow at 10 Deep Street is a War Memorial!

Richard Mason and Carol Allan




Last month I announced my intention to undertake Alfred Wainwright’s 200-mile Coast-to-Coast walk from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay on the North Sea coast.  The walk, which will be in aid of both Prestbury and Pittville Youth and the Friends of St Mary’s, will take me through three national parks: the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors.

I shall be travelling to St Bees on 14th May to begin the walk on the following day, and aim to finish in just under two weeks.

I should be hugely grateful if you would feel able to sponsor me in this undertaking, so keep an eye out for me – or someone from PPY or FoSMP – waving a sponsorship form over the coming months.

Many thanks in anticipation of your support.

Stephen Murton




‘Simply Vicky’

The Dunn family had the pleasure of welcoming Vicky back to Gloucestershire in February when she was transferred from Frenchay to a specialist care home in Tewkesbury called Theoc House. This will be Vicky’s home temporarily whilst the house that the Dunn family have been allocated is extended to suit Vicky’s needs.

Planning permission has now been granted for the extension and it is hoped that the family will be reunited under one roof in the late spring.

In the meantime, ‘Simply Vicky’, the group formed to raise money for Vicky’s non-funded needs, such as communication aids, have been busy. Local live band Bootique headlined another successful evening at Prestbury Hall in December and the next event will also be held at Prestbury Hall on Saturday 28th April. This time it will be a Curry Buffet followed by a disco. Tickets on sale soon so save the date!

Dee Campling


An Email from Australia

Hi! Just browsing through the internet and decided to look up St Mary’s Prestbury as I was a parishioner there many years ago before I migrated to Australia with my parents in 1957. It has been lovely to catch up again with a look at the past. Although we are well settled in Australia I am still English at heart; as I say to people: Nobody can take my birth right away from me. Several of my sisters were baptised at St Mary’s and my eldest sister and brother were confirmed there as I was also. My husband and I attend St Matthew’s in Panton Hill Victoria and have done for over 36 years. It has been lovely to catch up with the old church and is nice to see it growing.

Yours, Barbara Smith (nee Barnes)




Gold Cup Week, 13th – 16th March

St Nicolas’ Church will be serving refreshments to the race-goers every morning during the Festival – from 9.00am to approx 12.30pm.

Offers of help with this fund-raising event are needed; please contact Sue Bolton  or Margaret Compton .



Day School for Flower Arrangers – Saturday 17th March

This is scheduled for 10am at St Nicolas’ Hall and will be led by Beryl Griffiths, a well-known teacher and demonstrator.

The event is aimed at church flower arrangers across the parishes, and offers a rare opportunity for individual help and inspiration, but should there be enough spaces, others are welcome too.

The cost, to include tuition, coffee and lunch, will be £10 per person, and we are asked to bring our own flowers and foliage, details of which will be circulated nearer the time.

To reserve a place, please contact me .

Sue Fairclough



Mothering Sunday at St Mary’s – 18th March

As part of our Mothering Sunday celebrations this year, we would like to ask for your continued valued support in donating posies for our Sunday services. All posies can be delivered to St Mary’s on the morning of Saturday 17th March, where there will be buckets of water located by the font for you to place them in. For further information, please contact Becky Marks.  We very much appreciate all your kindness in helping others to share the joy of Mothering Sunday.



St Mary’s Bakestall

The date of the next bakestall is Sunday 18th March, provided by the A-F team. The proceeds will be sent to Care International.

Margaret Waker and Linda Matthews



Prestbury Mothers’ Union

Our next meeting is on Tuesday 20th March at St Nicolas’ Church at 7.30pm. Our speaker this month will be Fr Paul Iles who will share with us ‘Reflections for Lent’. Everyone most welcome.

Sylvia McKenzie, Branch Leader




St Mary’s Spring Clean …

St Mary’s annual spring clean is taking place on the weekend of 23rd/24th March. We will start as usual on Friday afternoon at 2pm and resume on Saturday morning at 10.15am when the church will be made to look at its best ready for Easter.

… and Churchyard Tidy

The churchyard tidy up will also be taking place on Saturday 24th March starting at 10.15am, when help will be needed with mowing, edging, weeding etc.

Refreshments will be provided for all helpers on Saturday morning. Any time that you can spare to help either inside or outside the church will be greatly appreciated.

Rosie Dodd




Events at St Nicolas’

At St Nicolas’ we will be holding a series of coffee mornings and afternoon teas in order to raise funds for our Jubilee Celebrations. Definite dates will appear in the pew sheets.

On Saturday 24th March in St Nicolas’ Church Hall at 6pm there will be a Beetle Drive to which all ages will be welcome. If you haven’t tried this before then give it a try, it should be fun! Details from Jeanette Behenna.

There is still time to offer your talents for the Evening of Entertainment to be held in St Nicolas’ Church on Saturday 14th April, starting at 7pm. A wide range of entertainment is already promised so make a note in your diary to come along and enjoy the show. Prices: Adults £5, Children £1, to include a drink and nibbles. Details from Janet Ford  or Gill Wood


Prestbury & Pittville Youth

invites you to be part of:

‘reach’ – creative

Sunday 25 March – 6pm
St Nicolas’ Church, Swindon Lane

A chance to connect with God,
be inspired by the art work of young people,
and have a go yourself

More info:
Andy Macauly

‘reach’ has a youth flavour, but is open to all ages



Youth work dates

Last youth work session before Easter holidays is Thursday 29th March.

Andy Macauly




Prestbury Flower Arranging Club

Our next meeting will be held at Prestbury Hall, Bouncers Lane on Monday 26th March when Yvonne Mort will be presenting ‘Pressed Flower Craft’. Also this month there will be our two friendly and informal competitions for flower arrangements and craft, the title for the floral arrangement is ‘An L-shaped Arrangement’. The demonstration begins at 7.30pm with doors open at 7pm. Visitors are most welcome, there is a £5 charge and refreshments are available. More information can be found on our website which has full details of our programme of events together with a photo gallery, or you can contact our chairman Lindsey or our secretary Fenella.




Fr Paul’s 50th Celebration

Fr Paul reaches the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood on Sunday 17th June. He has asked to celebrate the occasion with a Sung Eucharist at St Nicolas’ and this will be followed by a lunch. This will also be our opportunity to thank Fr Paul for his ministry amongst us over more than ten years as he will be retiring from his post as House for Duty priest in the North Cheltenham Team Ministry. Please put this important date in your diaries and watch out for more details of the arrangements nearer the time.

Fr Michael



Irish Cathedrals – Part 2

     Continued from last month

I reached Kilfenora, county Clare, the afternoon of my first Sunday. Kilfenora cathedral is partly ruined, but one transept is re-roofed and shelters some High Crosses. The nave, roofed for worship, has two hearths to warm priest and people in winter; apparently only that for the people remains usable. Services are rare but I had chosen a Sunday when one was scheduled. A Methodist minister gave a talk on local history and led a sparsely attended ecumenical service.



Tuam, county Galway, was anciently the seat of an archbishop, and in the Roman Catholic usage remains so. The Anglican cathedral has a splendid ancient chancel arch and a huge Victorian nave. But with the withdrawal of the garrison at independence and the run-down of the railway the congregation has diminished and it is clear that the upkeep of the building outstrips available funds.


Galway city’s large, beautiful and well-kept old Anglican St Nicholas’ church was once the seat of a college of priests, headed by a warden. Like bishops and some abbots, the warden wore a mitre. After the Reformation there were rival colleges and wardens until both ended in the 19th century.

By Saturday I was again based in Sligo and on Sunday reached county Mayo. Killala cathedral is 17th century. It has old box pews – complicating exchanging the Peace with one’s neighbour – and the organ was not used, CDs providing the accompaniment and leading the singing of the hymns. The flagons did not directly hold the wine and the water but bottles of wine and water. Unusually in Ireland, there were candles on the altar and another on the font-cover, the font being just below the communion rails.



Starting south-east towards Rosslare for the ferry, I turned off to see the exterior of the very small 1823 Achonry cathedral, well outside the small modern village. It was recently deconsecrated and its parish (many Irish cathedrals also have parishes) merged with the next. It has since hosted ecumenical carol services and the priest had agreed to show me round but shortly before I sailed it suffered a ceiling fall and became unsafe to visit. I fear repair may prove beyond the purses of the congregation.


Kildare cathedral, mediaeval but restored from near ruin in the 19th century, was architecturally the highlight of this year’s twelve, alone bearing comparison with English cathedrals. It is cruciform with a central tower. Nearby stands the tallest Round Tower climbable but I did not enjoy looking round while transferring from one ladder to the next on the way up and did not go to the top. Later I found that my glasses frames were bent. Although I was unable to photograph it myself, the internet provides a photo in the public domain.

I spent the morning before sailing in Ferns. Ferns cathedral was burnt by local clansmen in 1575. Compelled to rebuild it, they did the least they could get away with, filling in the transept and nave aisle arches to leave the nave and sanctuary.


Anthony Smith




‘Eastward in Eden; … every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food; and a river to water the garden…’

Genesis 2:8-10 (KJV) abridged

This was, as Francis Bacon reminded us, where ‘God almighty first planted a garden – and indeed it is the purest of human pleasures.’ (Essays, Of Gardens, 1625)

We should qualify Bacon’s appraisal. Alexander Cruden commented that the pure pleasure will come at a cost. ‘A garden stands always in need of weeding and dressing,’ and drew a parallel so very meaningful to any gardener, ‘so in the hearts of Christians, Christ has always somewhat to do; they would else soon be overgrown and turn wild.’ (Cruden, Concordance, Canticles 5.1 1737)

Most references to gardens in the Bible itself are to events in them, rather than analogies or descriptions of their character and purpose. The most graphic include the disaster in Eden itself, the treachery in Gethsemane and locations of idolatry and other ungodly activities. Our own attitude to them was expressed most famously by Dorothy Frances Gurney, ‘One is nearer to God’s heart in a garden, than anywhere else on Earth.’ (God’s Garden, 1913).

It may not even be our own garden. Perhaps we look down at it from a neighbouring window or walk past it. Or we may share one, or help in one. We can visit and enjoy a garden like an open air theatre or we can go on stage ourselves and join in the production. ‘Plots’ in these theatres will demand imagination, optimism, patience, dedication, determination, expertise, knowledge, preparation, hard work, a modicum of fitness and perhaps above all, a love of nature. If one is fortunate enough to work as a team in a garden, as in an ensemble in the theatre, the desirable qualities may be shared among the group. Then, enjoyment is enhanced by working with kindred spirits towards a common goal. Additional qualities of tolerance, cooperation and compromise are fostered and enjoyed. Under such circumstances, Mrs Gurney’s aphorism is well founded.

Even then, performances are likely to be flawed and the reasons are chastening. There will be human mistakes in preparation, planning, planting, pruning and care. But there will also be rain, wind, frost, drought, and unpredicted weather patterns to add to frustration and impatience. To the agnostic, these are simply elements upon which the garden depends for its existence. For the Christian, the elemental source is God. The trials and tribulations of the gardener are not exactly Job-like, nor is failure likely to result in death or destruction. But they are, or should be, a constant reminder that in the last resort, the gardener is only a manager: an actor in a play whose plot is held in trust.

Such a realisation should temper the gardener’s pride in achievement with the humility and acknowledgement of dependence. Sadly, more common is a highly acclaimed study of ‘A year in the Garden’ which in 390 pages attributes all success and failure to the gardener. As we enjoy our gardens, wherever they may be, let us indeed be grateful to the gardeners but with Francis Bacon, give thanks to ‘God almighty’.

Tony Mason, St Nicolas’








Prestbury Parish Magazine - March 2012

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