Reflections from the modern country churchyard
Whaaaaagh! Despite the safety helmet and ear defenders the noise penetrates the brain as nylon string flies up against tombstones, shredding all vegetation before it. Bracken, grass, ivy – the top of the range is taking no prisoners.
This is no time to stop and stare. Concentrate. The nylon will also deface the soft sandstone stones, remove the rendering only applied last year to the churchyard wall. Then there’s the risk of getting too close to those few graves that are still tended with loving care. Strimming the heads of the spring blooms does NOT go down well – I have learnt that lesson!
Despite the noise there is a sense of tranquillity. Alone in the midst of the crumbling stone, there is a peace. And, after 20 years, there are some fond memories to be found in the more recently buried areas. Jean, who thrust her hands deep in her pockets and spat: “I don’t believe in this nonsense!”. Peter, the professional thespian to the end. Jim, once the village carpenter, who always provided the trestles for the fete.
Whaaaaagh! Concentrate. Look around and take heart, you are making a difference. Tomorrow after the service there will not only be the complementary “what a nice sermon”, but also the
plaudits of “you have made a good job out there”.
Square yard, by square yard, nature’s attempts to reconquer the churchyard are repelled.
Whaaaaaagh! Whaa….ughhhhh! Another tank of fuel has been consumed. Peace settles. Lift the helmet and hear the sounds that have been drowned for the last twenty minutes. The starlings chirupping against the eaves as they try to find their way in and endure death by starvation.
“No, churchwarden, I know we have three dead birds in the chancel this week, but I don’t think it is bird flu. No I don’t think we should parcel them up and send them to Defra”
Pause a while. Enjoying the peace, the mind wanders back to another time. Then there was a different sound. The gentle swish of the scythe, the grinding slash of carborundum on steel as edges sharp enough to shave with were restored to the cutting edge of the tools.
Oh, and other sounds. Laughter, the badinage of farmhands together in a confined space. Youngsters – I was one then – teased at not being able to even get a clean, even cut with a sickle. As I grew up the old crafts were being lost.
Cutting the churchyard was a community activity. Everyone turned out. All did their bit. Men scythed, women trimmed the edges of graves and removed the ivy, while youngsters learnt something about service in the community. It was a privilege, not a punishment then.
We sipped illicit small cups of ale and heard the traditional tales of the village. We heard the memories of folks long since laid to rest.
But that was then. Today, the call of golf course and squash court; the shopping trip and visit to distant relatives, all demand the villagers are elsewhere. Health and safety dictate that children can be nowhere near the screaming machines. If
someone else comes, they will be armed with engine-powered machinery. Even the vicar has an electric strimmer whining away as he strims inside those graves made at a time when kerbs were allowed.
Ah well, life changes, times move on.
Pour in the fuel, pull the string. Whaaaagh! Here we go again. It’s easier nowadays, but we have lost something with all this mechanisation – haven’t we?
rural life and ministry
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