Having sat in the sunshine at a table outside the very pleasant Coach House tearoom in Tissington (on holiday) Penny and I decided to look at the parish church that stood grandly opposite us.
What a treasure of history! The Norman door has crude carvings above it depicting figures in strange garb. I hope my photograph gives you an idea. I looked at the stained glass window showing Noah’s Ark, and I scrutinised the sides of the baptismal font with their ancient carvings. The window frames are carved with decoration.
What I did not see (only read about it later) were the grooves in the sides of the door from where men and boys sharpened their arrow tips. During the reign of King Edward III in 1663 there were several attempt by parliament to encourage archery among the people, for the Black Death had depleted the number of skilled bowmen in the country. Every Englishman was ordered to own a bow of his own height, kept ready for use, and to provide one for his son. All boys were told to practice shooting with the bow on Sunday afternoons on the south side of the church. Hence the grooves on the door posts.
The overall impression that struck me as I looked around this church though, was the sense that we have lost so much.
Church may be growing again in the UK and I am delighted to be part of a congregation in York that has experienced growth. But these many country churches show that faith at one time completely covered the land. Some people were motivated by simply superstition, others by social convention. But there was still great and widespread faith, faith and a knowledge of God that shaped lives and society, gave joy in hardship and endurance in times of need. We have lost so much.
If we see the revival that many of us pray for, I think the best ‘wineskin’ to contain this outpouring will be the Church of England. I may despair over their lack of proclamation, and the reluctance to speak clearly on the ancient truths, but the Anglican have a branch in every town of village. If these chutches again became houses of prayer and faith it would transform out land,