At this time of year many people enjoy a holiday in the sun to try and boost their spirits amidst the gloom of winter. In the past John and I have enjoyed winter holidays in Madeira or Tunisia; this year it was a week in a cottage on a farm near Plymouth! We decided to visit Plymouth because our nephew lives there; he had just bought a flat and we wanted to catch up on his news and see his new home. Just as we had booked the cottage he announced that he was going on holiday to Nicaragua for a week – wonderful timing! In spite of that we managed to spend one day with him, admired the flat, and had chance to explore the area around Plymouth.
Our holiday consisted of walks along the coast, battling strong winds as we walked on the beach, visiting National Trust properties and the Plymouth Aquarium, and eating delicious meals in pubs and restaurants. There was also plenty of time for reading on the days when it was too wet to venture far from the Aga in the cottage.
While we were on holiday I visited the local church, St Werburgh’s in the village of Wembury. The church is in an amazing location on top of the cliff, with a pathway from the churchyard leading down to the car park and beach. It is believed that there was a Christian Celtic or Saxon oratory on the site in the early years of the ninth century, so it has been a place of worship for hundreds of years. St Werburgh was the daughter of one of the Kings of Mercia in the seventh century. She wished to enter a convent rather than be married. Her father at first refused this request but later agreed and placed her in the care of her great-aunt, Ethelreda, at a convent at Ely. She became a significant figure in the convent and eventually gained control of all the convents in the kingdom of Mercia. Her remains are now housed in a magnificent shrine in Chester Cathedral.
The church reminded me of the churches in our benefice. It was a beautifully maintained building, showing great love and care from the parishioners. The oak pews were elaborately carved and decorated and polished to a high shine! There were two large shrines from the seventeenth century in the church, very similar to the Croke memorial in Chilton church; testaments to the wealth of local families and the love that they had for the deceased. Worship in St Werburgh’s on Sunday morning was very familiar. The words, the music, the warmth of welcome, and the refreshments afterwards were a mirror image of worship in our benefice. An additional sense of familiarity came when one of the sidesmen told me that he knew the Bernwode area because his son lived in Thame – what a coincidence!
Our village churches throughout Britain provide a wonderful sense of timelessness. It is easy to imagine people across the ages worshipping in these buildings. The way we dress, the words of the service, and the type of music that we use may change but the prayers and reverence seem to be soaked into the stones of the building. It is a comforting thought to realise that we are part of a long continuum of worship. However, this also brings responsibility with it. We are custodians of these buildings, traditions, and worship for future generations. We have to maintain a balance between preservation and development to ensure that worship continues in these rural communities. When I visit churches like St Werburgh’s I can appreciate how much love and commitment goes into maintaining the building and the worship there, and I am grateful to the parishioners for showing such dedication. If you are visiting the Plymouth area I can recommend a visit to Wembury beach and the church of St Werburgh – even if the wind is howling and the temperatures are on the chilly side! Priscilla