740th anniversary sermon

St Andrew's Church, Clayhidon: at the centre of local life for more than 740 years 

From the Rev David Burton's address to an anniversary service on  27 February 2104

“Where is Clayhidon?” the lost traveller will ask. And what will be his answer? The whole parish of Clayhidon covers an enormous area and consists of isolated farmsteads and clusters of houses – some with names Bolham Water, Smeatharpe, Rosemary Lane – but on the map and on the sat nav it will direct you here – to where the church is – and where it has stood for 740 years. And for all those years it will have been regarded as the centre, the focus, for all those living in the parish – even though it isn’t in the middle!

And St Andrew’s Church, like so many of our medieval churches remains the principal landmark in the parish – and can be seen from a variety of viewpoints around, unmistakably announcing in stone a holy and Christian presence in this beautiful and isolated corner of Devon.

Here stands today, as in so many former years, a statement in stone that God has a home with us – and his presence is at the heart of the community. And has been at its heart for in excess of 740 years.

As far as I am aware, there is no record recording a place of worship here before 1274 – but the likelihood was that something – maybe in wood, pre-dated the 13th century building – and the Church was certainly very active in this part of Devon many centuries before – Cullompton being established as a Minster with five clergy – who knows, one of them may have come and preached the gospel here in Anglo Saxon times.

One of the problems, of course, we have today, is that when we speak of the Church most people think of the building, If one talks of St Andrew’s Church, Clayhidon – they might invariably think of this lovely ancient building – which stands, as it were, a metaphor for the Church as we heard read from 1 Peter – where the image of “living stones” has become such an important one for us today.

And I am sure many of us have heard (and indeed preached) sermons where we have made that comparison between the thousands of stones that make up the Church building – in their variety, size, beauty and placement.  I asked on Sunday where people thought the most important stones were and it was agreed that it was the ones on the bottom, the foundation stones which we now don’t see, but on which the whole building rests.

But of course the building would not exist as we see it without all the stones, the rough hewn rubble stones that fill the walls and pillars, the carefully selected foundation stones – large, strong – but invisible. The stones on the outside to withstand the weather and all that would seek to bring it down, the carefully fashioned stones that make up the inner walls and pillars, the stones under our feet that we walk upon – and the finely carved stone of the windows and other fine features that everybody sees and makes it beautiful for God.

'The Catholic St Andrew's would
have looked entirely strange'

And, of course, as well as describing the building we are describing the people of God, the Church, who from century to century have been the living stones through whom Christ is present here in Clayhidon in every hour, every day and every year for probably more than 1000 years.

We look at the building as an enduring sign of Christ’s presence – 740 years sounds a long time to all of us – and it is. But the Church has been here for much longer – and each generation provides new living stones to embody and proclaim the presence of the living Christ here in Clayhidon.

We, today, are the bearers of Christ’s light in a world that has changed, and has kept changing for centuries.

Iam Wakeling’s history of the church outlines the many changes that have happened in the last 740 years (and I might suggest to the PCC and the History Society that this might be worth republishing and revising – perhaps in time for 750 years?)

The pre-Reformation Catholic St Andrew’s would have felt and looked entirely strange and bizarre to our eyes today – with its screen and rood loft, its plethora of imagery and colour, and the regular saying of the Latin rite.

For many parishioners, who would not have understood much of what was being said, would undoubtedly have had a sense of entering heaven and emotionally would have a deep sense of God’s presence.

The Reformation brought about much change and much destruction through the 16 and 17th centuries – the colour and imagery removed, the screen and rood removed, the focus being the word of God as we hear it in the Bible. By the 17th and 18th centuries the pulpit was much more prominent and central – and things became a lot more serious.

The reformers brought in new books of Common Prayer first in1549 and then 1552. Liturgical  reform and change is not new!

'A Puritan minister was ejected at
the restoration of the monarchy''

In the 17th century change continued during the Commonwealth period with further changes following the defeat of the King in 1646. A Puritan minister was installed here in 1658 but was ejected at the restoration of the monarchy and a new incumbent – who was able to confirm the 39 articles, was appointed, significantly in 1662.

During the years that followed St Andrew’s evolved relatively peacefully into what we inherit today.

We owe much to the faithfulness and fortitude of former generations here, who through good times and bad, have maintained the building and more importantly maintained the faith.

A faith founded and built upon that “stone that the builders rejected”.

We, today, together with the faithful of former generations, are built up into a temple to God’s glory of which this building is a reflection. We are His presence here as living stones.

So today we give thanks for those who have gone before us – but we hold fast to our calling today, that in the strength of God’s Holy Spirit we might continue what they began, inspired by this building dedicated to that great apostle St Andrew who was the one who brought his brother to Jesus – so we too seek to be faithful in our witness to our true foundation, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.