News from St Mary’s – March 2023

Retirement has its benefits and drawbacks, but one of the benefits is time to re-visit home book shelves and re-read some volumes perhaps last read twenty or thirty years ago. I have a small collection of twentieth century biographies, one of which concerns the quest for faith of Siegfried Sassoon (1886 -1967). Sassoon is best known for his stark and brutally honest poetic accounts of life as an officer in the trenches of the First World War. 

As the war dragged on he became disillusioned with what he saw as its needless prolongation to enrich vested interests. So much so that he threw his medal for bravery into the River Mersey and penned a public condemnation of the military command and the government. Not knowing quite what to do with a decorated officer expressing such opinions, it was decided that Sassoon had experienced a mental breakdown, and he was admitted to Craiglockhart Hospital in Scotland. Fortuitously while there he met and was able to befriend and advise the younger poet Wilfred Owen, who returned to the front and was killed in the closing weeks of the war.

Sassoon’s war poems are now widely known and are included in the GCSE curriculum, as are those of Owen. Little is heard though of Sassoon’s later work, much of which concerns his sometimes faltering but always insistent journey towards faith. Sassoon made a perhaps unwise marriage in the 1930s, with his only child George settling in Scotland with his mother after the couple’s divorce. 

One can only wonder how Sassoon felt as the world was again plunged into a second World War in 1939. After the war he retreated to live a solitary life at his country seat in Wiltshire, Heytesbury House, where he battled with the leaking roof, damp and defective plumbing. Happily he did not live to see the dissection of his estate by the Warminster by-pass, which took place in the 1980s.

The book I am re-reading is called ‘Poet’s Pilgrimage’ which includes extracts from letters between Dame Felicitas Corrigan of Stanbrook Abbey, who also edited the book. The later Sassoon poems are included, as are letters between Sassoon and other luminaries of the period such as the then aged Thomas Hardy.  

Sassoon’s final coming to faith was completed in his 70s, and culminated in his being received into the Roman Catholic Church. The summation of this is contained in a five part poem called ‘Lenten Iluminations’, part of which is quoted below. 

As we enter into our own Lenten devotions, his description of being ‘scultptured with Stations of the Cross’ makes me think of St Mary’s, where we are surrounded by these stations on the walls, week in and week out. A visit to just such a place, presumably in the West Country, must have at least partly informed his inspiration for the poem –

‘I never felt it more than now, when out beyond these safening walls

Sculptured with Stations of the Cross, spring-confident, unburdened, bold,

The first March blackbird overheard to forward vision flutes and calls.’

Keith Revoir 

       

      

News from St Mary’s – February 2023

We had our first burial in seven years at St Mary’s just after Christmas, where we bade farewell to a long standing member of our congregation. Burials seem to have grown less common in recent years, but I was struck by the dignity of the occasion and the sense of calm and purpose. A large part of this comes, I think, from the Requiem Mass and burial rite being in the same place, rather than having to get into cars afterwards and proceed to a Crematorium. 

It is entirely natural to put off thinking about last wishes, but my own will is now very out of date, written some years ago when work took me away from Sussex. Now that I am firmly established in Buxted and at St Mary’s, (nine years this year) I think the place for me is going to be our churchyard.

In the Anglo Catholic tradition it is often the practice to receive the coffin at the church the night before, with a brief service of prayer. This was the case with our friend. Six tall candles, called Catafalque candles, are lit at each side of the coffin. 

The Requiem Mass follows the next day. It is not usual to have a eulogy or a detailed reference to the deceased and their life. This can surprise some attending, even giving rise to feelings that the church has ‘not done its homework’ as regards the deceased. The eulogy in our tradition is either given at a separate memorial service, or at the post funeral reception. In the case of our friend the reception was held at the Buxted Park Hotel, where in the relaxed atmosphere of a buffet lunch, we were able to hear about many aspects of his life, including a number of amusing anecdotes.

On another but related note, we try to make sure that we always keep in mind how we welcome and care for those who come to church, both regular attenders but particularly new members of the congregation. This is very much part of my weekly role as a sidesman as I am usually the first person encountered after ascending the front steps. 

There is a group of what I can only describe as church ‘mystery shoppers’ who visit churches and rate the quality of the welcome and interest shown to them as newcomers. I wish I could remember the name of this group, but I am reasonably confident that we would receive a good rating! 

Just as important is the period at the end of the service. Some research I saw once described this as the ‘golden half hour’ where people are either made to feel valued and truly welcome, or simply slip away un-noticed, probably never to return. 

Other things occupying us currently are our quarterly Church Committee meeting, and plans for a bigger and better Open Day & Craft Fair in May. Watch this space!

Keith Revoir

 

    

        

CHRISTOPHER (KIT) CHRISTIAN GAYLOR BUTCHER R.I.P

8th September 1931 – 9th December 2022

TRIBUTE

Kit was born in Brighton, the youngest of four children, of Harold and Norah Butcher.  Kit first attended Chinthurst Preparatory School in Surrey, where he acquired a lifelong love of classical music from his very musical Headmaster. The family eventually moved to London, and Kit attended Westminster School where he acquired his passion for history, especially of the monarchy. He loved to recite the names of the Kings and Queens of England in reverse chronological order!

On leaving school he joined the Army, and its ethos of discipline and love of and service to King and Country were to become integral to his whole life. On leaving the Army he worked as a model for an Advertising Agency and briefly as an Accountant. His passion for antiques (acquired from his mother) came into its own when he had the opportunity to run an Antiques Centre in Marylebone. It was there he met his friend Colin, for whom he worked as a Registrar at an English Language School. In 1989 Kit and Colin were involved in a car accident, caused by an uninsured driver. Kit suffered extensive injuries and was in intensive care; fortunately he made a full recovery.  As part of his rehabilitation he attended cookery classes, and became an accomplished chef. Thereafter he loved hosting dinner parties.

A lifelong Anglican, Kit loved traditional worship, the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible. He also enjoyed the ritual and sacramental worship of Anglo Catholicism or ’pomp and incense’ as he termed it. He was a regular worshipper at St Augustine’s Church, Queens Gate, one of the earliest Anglo Catholic churches in London, where he became the Parish Administrator. It was in this role that he met his wife to be, Naomi, as she used to bring girls from Queens Gate School, where she still teaches, for confirmation classes.  Kit and Naomi had their marriage blessed by the Priest in Charge at that time, the Reverend Rob Marshall.

After Naomi’s parents died they were buried at St Mary’s Buxted, thanks to Naomi’s dear friend the legendary Canon Bill Peters. Kit loved talking to Canon Bill about the Christian faith and their wartime experiences. He loved attending Mass at St Mary’s Buxted and St Mary’s Bourne Street in London.

Naomi had kept her flat in Brighton, and Kit was able to reacquaint himself with his birthplace. He enjoyed visiting the antique shops in the Lanes and in the county town of Lewes for which he developed a great affection. In Brighton he became very well acquainted with Marc, one of Naomi’s neighbours.  They became very dear friends, sharing a passion for antiques and the game of Chess. Latterly he loved the company of Naomi’s more recent neighbours, Natalie and Mark and their dog Otto.

Kit’s hero was the Duke of Wellington; he was an avid collector of Wellingtonia and toy soldiers. He also loved his holidays with Naomi to Ravello in Italy where they had spent their honeymoon. He was always immaculately dressed, never having had a T shirt or pair of trainers in his life!  He was also impeccably well mannered. Kit was a gentle gentleman and will be much missed and mourned by all who had the privilege of knowing him. 

Kit died peacefully in the Chelsea and Westminster hospital.   May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

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