The highlight of the Romney Marsh Historic Churches Trust AGM, held at All Saints, Lydd on Saturday May 13, was the address by Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and now Lord Williams of Oystermouth and Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.
We were told by chairman Peter Anwyl-Harris that he speaks a dozen languages and so were grateful that he chose to address us in English. Not that we could always be completely sure, because his voice became increasingly inaudible, as he bent over the pulpit and recited poetry.
His theme was that of empty churches, so much a feature of the Romney Marshes. Many of these churches were built in poorly populated villages, owing more to the wealth of Canterbury than the needs of the local congregation. Today, most remain scantily occupied, home to the inquiring visitor and the occasional order of service.
His first poem was by agnostic Philip Larkin, which starts: “When I am sure that nothing’s going on” and tells how “hatless, I take off my cycle clips in awkward reverence” as he opens himself to the mysterious aura of the place. Was it worth stopping for? Larkin says not, but then does so repeatedly and reflects upon “a serious house on serious earth . . . that never can be obsolete since someone is always surprising a hunger in himself”.
The next rendering was RS Thomas’ poem: “The Chapel”. From this image of a neglected Welsh hillside chapel, poet and our speaker pointed to the importance of maintaining the building that had resounded once with the faith of our ancestors and stood now as witness to the future generations: “I want you to know how it was”.
The final poem by David Scott was lost to the ear of most of us, but the message was clear, that these wonderful buildings hold still, and as long as they stand, a consciousness of the something other in our experience, pressing in on us and making us human. “The meaning is in the waiting”.
The address was well-directed because it demonstrated the value of the Romney Marsh Historic Churches Trust’s work in preserving and rescuing these magnificent structures, whose maintenance is way beyond the capability of modern congregations, but whose contribution is immense to the context and appeal of Romney Marsh. In the last financial year alone, the Trust donated £97,000.
Members’ tours will take place on July 1 and September 2 2017 and tickets applications and new membership enquiries should be addressed to the Secretary, Mrs Elizabeth Marshall email: email@example.com Tel: 01580 241529