A poem about worship in a farming community in Cornwall
|A Little Church on the Lizard
Goonhilly Downs, not a name to conjure with,
High on a moor with a collection of satellite tracking discs
Spreading around the summit of the Lizard Peninsula,
That soapstone jewel of the Cornish coast,
Blends into the plateau south and west
Where small, scattered farms scrape at the thin soils
And set apart a field with a caravan or two
To gain some pocket change from a tourist family,
Perhaps to pay the television licence.
My little family found one of those farms,
Stayed once and returned year upon year,
So well did we come to love the Lizard,
And time brought us close to our farming hosts.
Thus we earned an invite to their Sunday church,
Accepting in our curiosity to learn of rural worship
But unaware of the honour bestowed on us.
They are a close-knit bunch in these remote
And scattered communities, defensive in their isolation.
A few miles away, on the main road to Coverack
And St Keverne, small towns but most important
In the emptiness of the Lizard, stands the church,
Or, perhaps more accurately, a tiny chapel.
Here we arrived, our bright blue car a stand out
Amongst the battered and ancient Land Rovers,
And wandered into the bare and sparse interior
With benches built into walls and floor, part-filled
By a congregation of twenty perhaps, no more.
We were youngest there and greeted with old time
Politeness, the gnarled and sunburnt hands
Shaking ours with dignified welcome and aged lips
Framing their Cornish accents, such music to my ears.
Shown to seats unoccupied for generations maybe,
We waited with the rest, noting the tiny old lady
Taking her seat at an antique piano
While, at the front, the minister shuffled his feet,
Fingers whiffling through a suitably black and imposing Bible.
And so we began. The old lady attacked the keys
With a slightly out of tune old Methodist hymn.
The congregation burst out in a cacophony of sound,
The fellow to our left way too sharp, another to our right
Apparently singing a diff'rent hymn entirely, the rest
Sharp and flat and anything in between, all of them
Bellowing at the top of their lungs. The sound was,
If I may be truthful, terrible beyond belief, and we,
Shocked into submission, mouthed the words in silence.
We were products of the Fellowship movement in the cities,
Creators of the music-producing mega-churches
Like John Wimber’s Vineyard and the Australian
Hillsong. The culture shock was too much and we could
Do no more than last somehow through the sermon
To stagger outside and disappear with brief farewells.
We never went back and, to my shame on reflection,
Made fun and laughed at our subjection
To musical torture at the ends of the earth.
It is only now that I understand how privileged we were
To be amongst those farming folk that day and,
Not being a betting man, I am prepared to wager
A few nickels or groats that such fervent and joyful faith
Falls upon the ear of God as the sweetest of sounds,
Sweeter indeed than the massed choirs of half
The cathedrals of Christendom;
Sweeter than any number of braying Archbishops
Wallowing in their agnosticism.
Word Count: 533