[Our Article for May is written by Matthew Wiles]
The Church Journey
The sense of history that places of worship convey can inspire us.
Not only are they used for religious services, but they provide a place where we can spend time and where we can quietly reflect: a place for private prayer, a place to collect and contemplate our thoughts and a place to be among our friends and loved ones.
As well as this, they provide a place where we can learn.
Predominantly, this is about God, His word and His love. Most of the stained glass and imagery we see in our churches help to show and explain this. In past times, when very few people could read or write this was a particularity important feature for spreading God's word and teaching the stories of the bible.
Moreover, these places can often help us develop a sense of community, trust and citizenship too: through the new friends we make, the old friendships we cherish, the committees we join and the events we hold.
They allow us connect with our heritage and learn about people that were here before us; the decisions they made, the lives they led and the traditions they had. Much of this is in the form of memorials to various people and plaques erected to mark special occasions, but a lot of these are through the records that those people kept.
Churches were at the heart of the communities they served: essentially, they were the hub of the circle. They often doubled up as the only meeting place the parish had and were therefore used to regulate daily life; either by parish meetings or by authorities. In some cases, the unused churchyards were used as marketplaces and porches were used as a place to make various business agreements in the presence of God. This meant that individuals felt the church belonged to them as much as they belonged to the church.
As religious views changed through the 16th and 17th century and churchyards began to fill, non-sacramental actives on church land were discouraged; this was in a move towards a much purer view of scripture. The church's sole use became for services only: the sense of belonging had withered away and attendance at services dropped. The church of England as it now was, dropped into a slumber.
It wasn't until the 19th Century the church began to wake. Powerful landowners who now cared for and maintained the churches became fearful of the rise of non-conformist groups and felt that “something” must be done. That “something” was building new churches.
As new buildings went up, enthusiasm for the church grew which stimulated religious activity, meaning that more churches were built, this resulting in a progressive loop.
The structure and appearance of the services were overhauled (although the traditional form of words remained): Hymn signing became more general, organs replaced church bands, choirs became groups of robed men and women and sermons became serious. The church had really woken up.
As the enthusiasm grew, the New Parish Act (1840) was passed. This meant that churches came independent of each other (rather than being a subsidiary of a larger parish). The clergy were seeking new ways of reaching and communicating with people in their parishes (other than preaching from the pulpit) in an attempt to include them in church life and encourage them to be part of congregation.
In the same era the general literacy of the population had risen due to the Education Act (1870), which made schooling compulsory. All over the country, parish newspapers and magazines became the new way for the church to communicate with its parishioners.
When Walter Ruthven-Pym became the new vicar in 1883, he discovered that Wentworth didn't have a magazine and so promptly started one. The first issue was in January 1884 and set out to fulfil three simple objectives:
1. To give, month by month, any news of local importance: Especially the work concerning the church and church schools.
2. To be a medium of communication between the vicar and parishioners: Especially on matters that cannot be dwelt on or notified in church.
3. To strengthen fellow feeling and to deepen in the place the mutual interest in the work and welfare of all.
It was initially priced at one penny (equivalent to 87p in today's money). It contained a few pages of local interest, generally about the Earls' Fitzwilliam, and supplemented by a letter and bible verse from the vicar, one or two wider notices from the Church of England as well as a few advertisements to help fund it. It reached to all corners of the parish.
The magazine has, over the years, changed in shape and size, but in all intents and purposes it still fulfils Pym's original objectives.
It has added to the documentation kept by our predecessors. It is and has been, a record of church life for over 130 years that allows future generations to learn and explore our heritage. Not only that, but it brings the church to those people who cannot always attend and a sense of community and togetherness.
It's fair to say that a lot of what we see in Wentworth's Churches today is very much the same (or at least there are elements of similarity) as what people in times gone by saw too.
We still have that “something” introduced by the Victorians: hymns, our robed mixed choir, our organ, our inspiring building, our congregation and our heritage. We engage with the wider community not only through our magazine, but through our own additions too – our various events, committees, groups and our website. Above all, we still exist: for worship, private prayer and ceremonies.
In the words of Charles Darwin, “It is not the strongest, nor the most intelligent that survives, but the one most adaptive to change”
Long may we grow and continue, meeting the challenges and changes required for us to thrive. May God be a lantern at our feet, a guide on our pathway and a source of strength in our journey forward.