I wonder when the last time was that a member of the 8.15 a.m. congregation at Wentworth had a baby? A long time ago, I am sure. So congratulations to Kay Atkin, a young woman who was both married and confirmed in Holy Trinity during the last few years, and who had her first child in January, a girl weighing in at 7lb 5oz. Congratulation to them both and to Stuart, Kay's husband.
Perhaps you will notice the great age of the two people whose funerals took place last month? Tom Kelly was 95 and from Hoyland, but his wife Doreen was born in Wentworth. I was interested to discover that she had been in service at Wentworth Woodhouse during the time of the Fitzwilliam’s; she must be amongst the last to have memories of that period in our village's history. Kathleen Smith lived latterly at Wentworth Hall (the old vicarage) and she too played a small role in history. In April 1932 she and her husband were amongst 400 people who took part in the Kinder Trespass, a mass walk into an area of the Peak District previously kept 'off limits' by landowners. The Trespass attracted widespread attention, some arrests were made, and it is widely credited to have played a part in the formation of the National Parks in 1949, the provision of long distance paths such as the Pennine Way, and the right for walkers to have access to open country. Any of us who enjoy the countryside have a lot to thank these pioneers for. I wonder how many are still alive? Not many, I imagine, and Kathleen could even have been the last.
Kay and Kathleen have both gone through a rite of passage in our church, marriage in one case, a funeral in the other. It has been a great boast of the Church of England that it has provided God's blessing upon such events for anyone, whether church attenders or not (though in this case both are or were believing Christians). A decision of the Church's parliament, the General Synod, has put this in peril. They have sharply raised the fees paid by anyone wanting to be married in or buried from churches. We haven't yet worked out how this will affect Wentworth, as the sums are quite complicated. An announcement should be made next month and it may not mean a lot of change for us. But, overall, charges are going up considerably. Already, in towns and cities, families are starting to desert the church when it comes to arranging a funeral, and undertakers are often advising people to do this. And I do know of couples who approach us about marriage and who go away sadly when they learn what it will cost them.
This is a tragedy on several grounds. On the one hand, the church believes that giving God's blessing to a couple embarking on married life can benefit them, and that praying with the bereaved will comfort them. And on the other, both occasions can be moments when someone who has not thought much previously about the gospel may be challenged to do so. Earlier in my life as a clergyman, I noticed this particularly about funerals, nowadays it seems to be more true of weddings. If the church forces people to turn away because it overcharges them, the people themselves will lose out, and so will the church in terms of mission (not to speak of financially, which is the likely medium term result). This seems to me and to all members of the Wath Deanery Synod to be a highly regrettable decision, and we shall be passing a motion challenging it up to General Synod. Whether anyone will listen is another matter! But, as the Kinder Trespassers demonstrated, sometimes, just sometimes, the voice of common man and woman is heard.
Easter is very early this year, so Ash Wednesday is on the 13th February. We shall be having the usual service of Holy Communion together with the imposition of ashes at 7.30 that evening. Quite a number of people seem to appreciate this quiet and thoughtful start to the Lenten season so, if you haven't been before, why not come?
I do know that a few people still observe Lent by 'giving up' this or that and then, often, doing something appropriate with the money they have thereby saved. If you are doing that, why not ask Marion Chatterton or Sandra Davies for a collecting box for either the Leprosy Mission or the Children's Society? These are both good causes.
Finally, congratulations to Barbara Sabin, who has been awarded the BEM for her services to the Salvation Army and, through it, to various local communities. It is a richly deserved honour.
With best wishes,