Trevor Wedlake's Writings
Ancient & Modern
First published in the Village Journal October, 1977
|It' s a thin ageing line that wends its way out of church, thoughtfully, after Evensong most Sundays; a frail though valiant rearguard. Are their numbers so small, their years so long because the service is conducted in language too low in entertainment value?
The historian would never sell his wares if they were not couched in interesting language. Even scientists must wrap their subjects in subtle, entertaining phrases to hold the attention of the lay public. And journalists on HTV improve the presentation of the news by introducing an element of entertainment to it.
Perhaps it follows that if the church would lead the people in worship it must first be entertaining; and perhaps it is here that the modern church is failing. It was not always so. In churches and chapels in the slow, well-regulated Somerset villages of Edwardian England it was not so.
In those warm, twilight years, the last dying embers of a world that was soon to pass for ever, the village churches and chapels were the focal points of Sunday evening entertainment as well as worship. In those days a young man was almost as likely to meet a pretty girl in church as at the harvest-home
dance, and so to church or chapel they went, young and old alike.
To vary the style of the Sunday evening young people would attend churches not just of differing denominations but in different villages. They would walk say from Wrington to Redhill, Felton to Winford, Chew Magna to Chew Stoke.
It would be a source of disappointment if a special occasion like Harvest Thanksgiving fell on the same day in two parishes of their choice.
This for very many ordinary villagers was how Sunday evening was in that horse-drawn time before 1914.
It was on one such Sunday that the group of young men who set off for chapel included one who decades later was to tell me all about it. The chapel was in the village of - well let's just say it was less than fifty miles from here.
Well, that old preacher all that long time ago may have lacked scholarship but his vivid, picturesque language filled his church. It was language which was genuine and immediate and it has preserved his memory.
Would language like his fill more pews in the 1970's? That is language which is direct and relevant and entertaining. “Language”, said Ben Jonson, “Most shows a man; speak that I may see thee”.