Friday, October 16, 2009

Adventures in England, Part 06

Sunday, October 04, 2009
Sunday in Ormskirk

There was no way, today, to get to an Orthodox Church. We’re thinking we’ll probably rent a car next time we come. At least one of the Orthodox Churches is accessible by bus, but I stupidly stored the address on my computer, which I cannot normally access.

So we went to services at Sts. Peter and Paul (Church of England), otherwise known simply as “Ormskirk Parish Church.” It’s THE landmark in town, visible from almost everywhere and sitting near the center of town. It’s large, made of cut stone, and it has both a spire and a tower, both at the same end of the church, giving it quite an odd look.

It’s Harvest Sunday for this parish. The nave was decorated with Fall flowers and fruits and vegetables in colorful arrangements. I was touched because it seems to me people here must live very close to the land, so harvest really is an important time for them. The local geography reminds me of Germany, where there is a lot of farmland dotted with little villages. In a big city, one feels quite remote from harvest, it being pretty much an abstraction and celebrating it is just a gimmick. Not here. For the occasion, the parish combined their 9:45 contemporary service with their 11:15 traditional service, resulting in a sort of compromise service using organ for the hymns we knew and guitar cum flute for the ones we didn’t. And of course, the time of the service had been compromised too, so we arrived at 11:15 for a service that had begun at 10:30. We missed the following:

Greetings, Notices, and Introduction – Chris

Processional Hymn – 133, ‘Come ye thankful people come’

(People with Harvest gifts please follow choir to the front)

Choir: “Praise we the Lord”

Reading: Exodus 16:1-3 and illustrations – Chelsea

A time of open grumbling – Chris

Reading: Exodus 16:4-16 and illustrations – Daniel

Confession [repenting of the grumbling]


Music Praise Time – Music Group

Reading: Exodus 16:17-33 and illustrations – Rhoda

Greed Activity – Ann and Chris

Talk: Ann

We came in during Ann’s talk, very sorry to have missed the Greed Activity. After Ann’s talk came the Mother’s Union Enrolment and prayer. Then there were more prayers, led by Arthur, and another traditional hymn. Then, the final blessing, then another praise song. Then the people just sort of straggled up and out the door to shake the hands of two people in vestments, a woman and a man. We didn’t get either of their names, although we chatted a few moments.

We then met Mary, who kindly provided us a booklet about the church. (Nobody in this parish seems to have a surname.)

How old is the church? So old nobody knows. A church, says the booklet, “may have stood here for a thousand years or more.” The oldest surviving feature of this church is a crude carving on the outside wall, probably depicting St. Peter in chains, with a jailor. This carving “is probably the work of a Saxon craftsman who lived over a thousand years ago.” The church first enters the historical records in 1189, as a gift from the local lord to a nearby monastery. (Does that mean this church is prehistoric?)

Why does the church have both a tower and a steeple?

“Legend has it that two sisters – daughters of Orm – wanted to give something to the church but could not agree whether it should be a tower or a spire. So they ended up giving both. The truth is more prosaic.”

Yes, to put it euphemistically.

The tower was apparently built to house four Bells which came to the church from that nearby monastery, called Burscough Priory, after its dissolution in 1536. Ah, yes, you remember: the Reformer, King Henry VIII, dissolved all the monasteries. So here were four perfectly good bells coming to Ormskirk, and where to put them? “The steeple already standing…was … inadequate for them.” So, build a tower.

One of those Priory bells is now standing beside the pulpit, it having been retired from service (“pensioned off”).” It was cast in 1497 and recast in 1576, and bears a Latin inscription and the Tudor rose.

The tower now has a full complement (“peal”) of 8 bells. They ring every 15 minutes, Westminster chimes. The clock, formerly mechanical, has been electrified.

The Derby Chapel is also very interesting. It was constructed by the third Earl of Derby and served as his family’s burial place until 1851. (You pronounce that “DAH-bee”, of course.) “The third Earl died in 1572. His body was embalmed, perhaps with the idea of postponing the funeral until the vault was ready. However, after six weeks, he was buried in the high chancel after the most magnificently impressive funeral ever seen in Ormskirk. After all, his court in Lathom had rivaled in splendour that of the King himself.”

Here also lies buried, among all the other Derbys, the seventh Earl, “who was beheaded in the Civil War and his heroic wife, Charlotte de la Tremouille, who with a scanty force…repelled a three month siege of Lathom House.”

You can still see here carved stone effigies of four of the Derbys. The Earl of Derby is this church’s patron to this day.

“The chapel incorporates the site of an earlier Lady chapel. In 1366, this was endowed by public appeal and a list of 476 subscribers forms the earliest directory of Ormskirk and its neighbourhood. Many names of families are those of families living here today.”

Wait, there’s still more interesting history. I mean there’s tons of it, but I’m only telling you the most interesting points, in my opinion. King Henry VII once worshipped in this church.

The first Earl of Derby, Thomas, was King Henry VII’s stepfather. That is, the Earl’s wife, Lady Margaret Beaufort, by an earlier marriage, had mothered the man who became King Henry VII. “It was in fact the decisive intervention of Thomas…on behalf of his stepson at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 that established Henry on the throne and earned for Thomas the earldom of Derby.”

Ten years later, we are told,

King Henrie did take his progesse into Lancashire the 25th daie of June, there to make merrie With his mother the Countesse of Derbie Which then laie at Lathom in the countrie.

It is said that during his visit he worshipped in Ormskirk Church and the part of the church set aside for the King’s company is still known as the King’s Chancel.

In 1922, the Derby Chapel became the War Memorial Chapel. Now you can see in it stained glass windows depicting the colors of each of the allied forces, among them, the USA and Greece.

The church was refurbished in the late 1800’s, during which time the “rough pavings over bare earth” were replaced by a concrete floor. But the catch is that 7,000 burials had already been recorded beneath that old floor. So before the concrete was poured, these were excavated, and the bones reburied in a common grave in the churchyard. Seven thousand!

Oh, and here’s the cherry on the top of it all: “Inside the doors is the dog whipper’s bench, fitted with a drawer for gloves, whip and tongs, to separate and remove fighting dogs that had followed their masters into church.”

(If your dog wasn’t fighting, did he get to stay?  And would you attend a church where your dog might be whipped?)

Demetrios and I made our way, eventually, to the coffee hour in the church house (parish hall), where we met Jim, who generously spent a long time socializing with us. He learned more about us than we did about him, I’m afraid, but we hope to meet him again. He’s a tax official from Liverpool. We also met Peter and his wife, Pat, who know Demetrios’ old colleague, Dr. Underwood. They inform us that Dr. and Mrs. Underwood both are alive and well, and live on Greetby Hill Road. In fact, Pat said, “I’ll just pop in there on my way home and tell them ‘Dr. Theo’ was inquiring after them.” We thanked them very much for that kindness, and look forward to seeing the Underwoods sometime. Demetrios, though, says Dr. Underwood was always a little distant.

For me, there is a great pathos in thinking how poor Demetrios came here, feeling rejected and alone, and passionately and permanently gave to this town and her people his whole heart and soul, made them his surrogate family – and they never realized it, nor had any way of understanding how desperately attached to them he was, and with a few exceptions, they rarely seem to have thought of him as much more than an amusing foreign oddity. The foreigner came and they were kind to him, but then he left, as foreigners do (and should) and, for them, that was that.

Anyway, people at the coffee hour were very kind to us, as everyone here seems unfailingly to be, and we were glad we had come.

Across the street from the church is a knitting shop, so we stopped to let me peer through the window. Yes, it has all kinds of yummy yarn, and I shall very much enjoy shopping there. Fortunately, it’s in the very easiest spot in town to find.

There's a knitting group here, too, called Knit 'n' Natter. It meets in the Church House on Monday afternoons. I'll try to join it, if it's still going when we return.

Just as we were getting ready to cross the street, a friendly voice hailed us, and it was the man with whom we had shaken hands after the service. He’s a tall, stout man, with very round, blue eyes in a very round face, under wavy white hair.

I said, “I’m sorry; I didn’t get your name.”

“It’s Chris,” he said. Ah, yes, the Chris mentioned on the program, co-leader of the Time of Open Grumbling, as well as the Greed Activity.

“Chris Jones,” he added; first last name we’d heard. “I’m the Vicar.”

So we chatted a few moments. He has been to Richmond, Virginia, and says he loved it there.

How does one address a vicar?  I seem to recall (from English novels) that it’s “Vicar” but maybe it's “Father” or “Reverend” or  something else. I’m not sure, but never mind.  In this particular case, it’s almost certainly, “Chris.”

When Chris had said goodbye, we spotted the cab company, so we stopped in there, as well, to see if the lady there could help us find the cabbie who came to our rescue on our last trip. We want to invite him to tea some day. However, she couldn’t find a record of any fare to Southport from the railway station on that date, and suggested he might have worked for the other taxi company in town. We shall check that out later.

Then we meandered over to the Hayfield Inn for Sunday dinner. Jim, at the church, had discouraged us from going to the Queen’s Head, which advertises Sunday roasts, so we took his advice.

On our way home, passing the playing fields, we noticed a game of Rugby just getting underway. I’ve never seen Rugby, so we stopped for about 15 minutes to cheer the Ormskirk team. Then, as it was chilly out, we came home.