30 May 2012

More on 'Song of Songs'

Timothy West & Prunella Scales

 “I have a good eye, and, I can see a church by daylight.” – Much Ado About Nothing
Recently, whilst leading a party of university students around Westminster Abbey, I was lost for words. A precise word, in fact. Seeking to describe my fondness for churches, I invented a new word: Ecclesiophile. An ecclesiophile is “one who indulges in Ecclesiophilia; a lover of churches, church buildings and architecture”.
Although initially delighted by my own cleverness – surely there’s some sort of prize for contributing positively to the English language? – I assumed  ecclesiophile could hardly have been my own invention. However, after hours of scouring the online pages of the  Oxford English Dictionary, the mother of all dictionaries, I struggled to find this term or any comparable alternative. (Suggestions welcome!) Ironically, while ecclesiophile is not in general usage, its opposite, Ecclesiophobe – one who fears churches and church buildings—is.
Without a doubt, whether it is the correct term or not, Warwickshire is an ecclesiophile’s paradise! There are roughly 300 historic churches in the county, many with great historical importance, all beautiful edifices of faith, history and heritage. 
A recent survey conducted by the Warwickshire and Coventry Historic Churches Trust  revealed that 86% of the British public visited a church in the past 12 months, illustrating the significance of these buildings and, no doubt, the services and the events that take place within them, to British cultural life. The value of an individual church to its locality is of course unique to each community. And now, more than ever, Warwickshire churches need support from their local communities.
Historic church buildings in Britain do not receive government support for maintenance and upkeep, so the responsibility falls to parishioners to think creatively to raise much-needed finances. As a member of the Barford Church PCC, this is an issue I have come to appreciate quite profoundly. I love that “little grey church” across the road, and hope my flair for “show biz” can help the PCC as it pursues imaginative ways of raising funds.
Our wonderful rector, David Jessett, can rest assured that we won’t be following the example of All Saints Church in Nuneaton, who, for a fundraising fête in 2008, placed their fearless vicar, the Reverend John Plant, in the stocks to be pelted by parishioners hurling wet sponges! Rather, there’s talk here of creating a “Friends of Barford Church” society, and plans to continue developing a programme of high profile arts events.
I’ve taken the lead on one such event - a dramatic reading of the biblical book Song of Songs featuring legendary performers Prunella Scales and Timothy West. I daren’t claim that I shall be ‘directing’ this dynamic duo, as they need no direction at all! But, I’m honoured to have this opportunity to collaborate with them, and greatly appreciate their support of our little village church.
As every good Ecclesiophile knows, historic church buildings are timelessly beautiful facets of everyday English landscapes, an integral part of British cultural heritage, and well worth whatever efforts we can make to keep them standing.
 “Song of Songs”, a dramatic reading starring Prunella Scales & Timothy West, presented at St. Peter’s Church, Barford on 1 July 2012, 8:00 PM. Tickets £15 (inc a glass of wine) available at Presto Classical in Leamington Spa (01926-317025)

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