Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Alongside at St Stephen's parish

Our reception by St Stephen’s parish has been better-than-wonderful. The hospitality is exemplary. [I’m told that the formal name is “St Stephen’s Hackington”, but “St Stephen’s Canterbury” is less ambiguous.] Not only have we been granted use of their parish hall, but we’re in the parish church daily: there is a programme at 4pm, followed by evening prayer at 5pm.

The 4pm event is part of a programme called “Alongside at Lambeth”, and its creation was positively inspired. I’ve staffed many many synod displays, both diocesan and general, and I know that at every event there will come idle times of boredom and isolation. The Important People are doing what they’re off doing, and the hangers-on and those below the salt are left with not much to do, and not much feeling of being part of the event. Inclusive Church (spearheaded by the Rev Caro Hall) have come up with programmes for us white-lanyard exhibitors – and anyone else who wants to join in.

Every business day, there is bible study (near the Marketplace, where our displays are) at 11, on the same passages the bishops are following in their studies. There are buzz groups at noon if there are subjects that spark discussion. And at 4pm (you knew I’d get back here eventually) there are speakers at St Stephen’s. Yesterday, we had three speakers, on Care-full Listening. Today, [Canada’s own] Eric Beresford talked on Communion for Creation: Co-operation fo rthe sake of God's Earth. Tomorrow it’s Youth Inc - why is it so scary?. It all gives us something to mentally and spiritually engage with, along the same discussion lines (if not in the same venue) as the bishops.

Yesterday, between the presentation and evening worship, Justin (the rector of St Stephens) spoke to us, and with great glee took us to the sanctuary.

Up on the north wall was a funerary tablet – there are several, and anyone who’s been in an older English church will recognise the kind of marble carved stone in memory of someone who died on XXX at the age of YYY. The text of the tablet is quite conventional in many ways, but in other ways, it’s very different:

[in the original, the text is in BLOCK CAPS throughout. The two names, which I've put in CAPS here, are in larger face type. The last paragraph is no larger, but I've bolded it coz it's important]

on the south side of this chancel
and within the rails lie the remains of
of Camberwell, Surrey, son of the
Revd John Bunce, formerly vicar of this parish
for more than half a century
and of
also of Camberwell, and a native
of the city of Lichfield.
The former died August XXIInd, MDCCCXXXI [22 August 1831]
aged LXXVI [76] years
and the latter, September IIth, MDCCCXXXVI [2 September 1836]
aged LXXXIII [83] years
they had lived in a course of uninterrupted
friendship for sixty years, and in the
grave they are not divided


William and William are buried in the same grave, under the floor of the sanctuary. (Mr Bunce’s dad, former vicar, is buried in the centre aisle).

There it is: tangible evidence of a same-sex couple, who lived together for sixty years, and were buried in the same grave. In 1836.

St Stephens has been supporting us for over 170 years. That increases the sense that it’s just RIGHT that we should be here at St Stephens. It’s home.

Chris on Tuesday afternoon

1 comment:

Gillian said...

That is a lovely story. How wonderful of that church, but also how utterly natural of them to accept the two Williams like that. Bless them all.