Country Church Sermon
Mark, Arcady and I are on a visit to a country church. Sitting on pews we discuss what we plan to be when we leave Oxford;
‘I shall be a bishop,’ Mark says. ‘I think either of Lichfield or Rochester; and I shall have a boy kneeling before me with a chalice full of amethysts.’
Arcady chortles delightedly. ‘But there you are! Mark, it seems, must come straight from the Elysian fields. He thinks religion is just that sort of show and nothing else!’
Enjoying this, Mark continues; ‘I shall pick the good amethysts out and throw the bad ones over my shoulder. Ill cess to them! Actual services will be rare in my church, with the exception of some of the less usual ones like, for example, the churching of women, and the Comminations, you know, the one that goes, “cursed be the man who moves his neighbour’s boundary stone” and the congregation replies: “Curse, I curse him”. That one I may well do daily. Then I think also I will often bless the congregation, especially when they are least expecting it. My blessing will be accompanied by flashing lights and sound effects. I shall have entered the church unexpectedly so that my blessing forms the unscheduled climactic point of a ceremony being in fact celebrated by an entirely different incumbent. Suddenly appearing amid the irradiation of a powerful spotlight, I will have the advantage of a microphone and amplification whereas the other man, a simple cleric, will in fact be destitute of these simple aids to worship.’
Mark begins to climb tall twisted stone steps that wind upwards. Occasionally, as he climbs, he reappears through lancet windows looking unexpectedly sinister so that Arcady and I remind each other that this must be one of the less orthodox forms of service Mark had mentioned.
Mark reappears in a lofty stone embrasure high over our heads. ‘Then,’ he says, his voice echoing sonorously round the church, ‘I shall have a band playing in a box on ropes, suspended a few feet from the floor at the end of the church. This will be a final foil for the philistines who, just as they think they have caught me, will be dumbfounded as myself and my tender band of acolytes rise in our box into the air. And as we rise they will be playing Gluck’s ‘Elysian Fields’ and from the vaults of the ceiling fly down an ardent crowd of putti to join us.’
John and I are standing in the moonlight of New College garden and as he points out the stars; ‘See,’ he says, ‘see where Christ’s blood streams in the firmement. Critics have been puzzled by that line, but it seems to me quite simple. They were speaking of the Milky Way.’
As we walked back towards the beckoning candles of his rooms, he said, ‘I had a good day. I took the first edition of Sir Phillip Sydney’s ‘Arcadia’ with me in a punt and spent the day alternately punting upstream through the meadows, up into the country, and reading ‘Astrophel and Stella’.
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