I love Cotswold churches; the honeyed stone, the architecture, the slightly dank smell and the quiet.  I like to imagine John Piper doing a quick sketch and taking photographs with John Betjeman prowling around reading all the plaques and tombstones and David Verey making notes for the Shell Guide of Gloucestershire.

When I visit a Cotswold church I am usually the only person there.  I put coins in the box and help myself to an introductory leaflet.  I wander round the nave and chancel reading a synopsis of the history and thinking about the stonemasons who built the place so long ago. John Ruskin would definitely approve!  It takes me back to schooldays where a set text was Cox and Ford’s ‘The Parish Churches of England’.  I leant by heart the titles of all 149 plates because you were invited to identify two or three of them (but, of course, you never knew which two or three!) as part of my ‘O’ Level Art examination paper.  A note in the copy of the book I still have says, ‘1954, pass – 90%’.  Learning by heart triumphed.

I was brought up to assume churches were hallowed places for contemplation and sober reflection.  When, in the period after the war, I was a choir boy at St Mary’s, the University church in Oxford, looking attentive and angelic was as important as singing.  During services any messing about or giggling was frowned upon.  Mr James (bass) and Mr Butler (tenor) kept their beady eyes on us throughout and reported any misdemeanours to the organist and choir master.  I cannot recall the vicar cracking jokes or a congregation being demonstrative by laughing or applauding.  It was much the same story at my school during the ritual of daily chapel. Teachers watched us like hawks as we went through our reverential motions without as much as a smirk.

After a lifetime’s conditioning about keeping quiet in church, imagine my delight at attending a wedding where a congregation of young people burst into applause and let out whoops of joy at the least provocation. The vicar, Michael Hand, set the tone with a light hearted welcome.  Then, the performance of a moving song, accompanied by guitar and cello, deservedly attracted prolonged and enthusiastic clapping.  When the vicar asked, ‘Will you, the families and friends of James and Julia, support and uphold them in their marriage now and in the years to come?’ we positively roared ‘WE WILL’.  And from then on, we seized every opportunity to clap and cheer our way through the joyous ceremony.

For the record, this happened at St Peter’s, Stanway, in the Cotswolds. The occasion was the wedding of Julia Charteris and James Honey, my son, on 16th July 2011. I like to think that the sleepy 12th century church has never seen the like of it. I certainly hadn’t! Happy-clappy here I come.

 

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