john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Home made Jams

    Lydford Parish and Community Magazine,
    February 2011

    Home made jams. One of the first features of West Devon life which we noticed on our arrival here. Churches display them on tables prominently placed for prospective purchasers, next to the hymn books and postcards of the ancient place of worship (where, presumably, for centuries locals have been producing preserves from their hand-picked apples and plums and selling them on for the church bell fund). Produce markets feature a multitude of tables creaking with marmalades and jellys, individually presented in jars of various shapes and sizes, sealed with clingfilm or the fancier cloth-and-rubber-band solution.

    Jam making. It seems that everyone is at it. Walk through Lydford on a winter's evening and it's easy for the naive incomer like me to imagine that in the firelight glow behind those curtains the cottage industries are hard at work: kitchens full of the sweet smell of cooking fruit, and at the living room table pieces of decorative muslin are cut into circles, jars are cleaned and with one ear to Eastenders the jam-maker is preparing labels ready to stick onto the next batch out of the pan.

    Now I'm determined not to romanticise rural life and I'm sure that the reality is probably that in Lydford as elsewhere most people, most of the time are more likely to end their working day with their feet up and two eyes on Eastenders and that jam-making is something for the weekend, or for the hobbyist next door. But thereis some sort of cultural particularity here. It's why next time we visit Liverpool the gifts we give to family members and friends to demonstrate our new allegiances will more than likely be sticky sugary substances in glass jars. And it says something about the place that whilst the big old industries are long gone (in Lydford's case, tin mining and imprisonment) the small-scale is thriving.

    Whether it's a sign of the times: the need to diversify to raise extra funds (charitable or business), a response to the contemporary cult of the celebrity cook, or our (very valid) anxieties about the environment; or whether it's simply how things have been done here for years, and have been proven to work, the small-scale clearly has a future.

    The Church of England has been responsible for some impressive large-scale activities over the years (cathedral building, taxation, education) and continues to be (this year's royal wedding, for all the talk of it being super-modern, is being planned at this moment by the Dean of Westminster Abbey, as so many royal weddings have before). Some excesses too (eg, the Church Commissioners' disastrously failed property investments of the 1980s, the outcome of which continues to impair the church financially). But there is a lot of current activity which draws on another strand of church life and faith which has always been there - and celebrates the small-scale. Much of this is to do with a rise in awareness that scripture has a lot of useful things to contribute to our thinking and planning around the nature and future of the planet (one example being the 'creation' Psalms: 8, 19, 29, 33, 65, & 104).

    At one level this has produced some excellent, if deep and complex, works of ecological theology. At another, more practical, level it has stimulated grassroots projects such as the Eco-Congregation initiative, which makes awards to congregations who have given their churches an 'environmental check-up' and responded appropriately to what they have found, in their worship and teaching (linking environmental issues with the Christian faith e.g. through services, children's work or an adult home group), practically (e.g. an energy, churchyard or recycling project) and by reaching out - working with or through their local community on environmental issues (e.g. a litter pick, project with a school or other community group, gaining positive publicity).

    There's a place in our tradition and our faith for doing things large, creating lavish celebrations in response to our lavish Creator. But there's equally great validity in living out our faith through doing, and treasuring, small things. It would be way too corny (and potentially misleading) for me to conclude by suggesting that we can find Jesus in a jam-jar, but I trust that if I did, you'd understand what I mean.

    John Davies
    Team Vicar