Within living memory Walpole St Andrew was a fully functioning parish church, perhaps even putting its grand neighbour at Walpole St Peter into the shade. But the extraordinary spalling of its stonework and the challenges of maintaining two such magnificent buildings in close proximity caught up with it and it was transferred to the care of the Churches Conservation Trust to enjoy “retirement”, still consecrated and open to visitors, but not in use for regular worship.
Once a year though first the cleaners and then the choir descend on it, everyone robes up as they ever did, and Evensong is sung, spurred on by local Authorised Lay Minister and organist David Baddeley. He invited me to lead this year’s service which I was delighted to do: the first time that I have done so with a (presently dry) moat and bridge between the choir and myself on the one hand and the congregation on the other!
The set readings spoke of Paul’s shipwreck and of the Jubilee year in old Israel when debts were remitted and of our duty of generosity to the poor. Staying well short of the hourglass’s hour I commented on the stormy seas of the last week, and the need to learn from the principles behind the Israelite law: that no-one must be left without a stake in our society, and that we must use our good fortune to bless those in need. My visitors from Africa and India this week had reminded me both of how rich even the poorest of us here are in world terms, and of how the greater danger we face is not material but spiritual poverty. Yet again we must recommit ourselves the work of prayer and care that an old parish church like this has always stood for.