Archive for December, 2013

…of Lethmachen? How still we see thee lie…

snow church2









It may not be unexpected that, at this time of year, our attention is drawn to the local church. Yet by all accounts it has been a difficult twelve months for the Lethmachen congregation, which has not only had to come to terms with the departure of its long standing head, The Reverend John Thrace, but continues to struggle with dwindling funds and attendance. Fortunately it is not all doom and gloom as the incumbent vicar, The Reverend Conrad Pyke, has made optimistic sounds about ‘attracting more young people to the church’ and ‘infusing the congregation with fresh blood’. If there were initially murmurs of disapproval at the appointment of Reverend Pyke, who was recruited from a rural parish on the Welsh Marches and rumoured to be preoccupied with the more ‘esoteric’ elements of his religion, these dissenting voices now appear to have been silenced by the enthusiasm of his sermons and his personal charm. ‘My parishioners concerns will not fall on deaf ears’ the vicar assured The Lethmachen Echo ‘It is true that these are difficult economic times, that the current congregation is ageing and thus money is necessarily spent on healthcare rather than the upkeep of their church. That is why I maintain we must reach out to a new generation, to ensure that younger people appreciate the timelessness of our faith. This does not mean we have to abandon the old traditions, simply that we should develop them to their full potential. To quote from Corinthians “I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also”.’

This ambition of the Reverend Pyke perhaps explains the revival of carol singing by members of the church choir. Allegedly due to internal politics, the tradition had fallen dormant over the last couple of years, but this festive season returned to the streets of Lethmachen. ‘Actually, I’d almost forgotten there was such a thing’ admitted local resident Mrs Smiley ‘It quite took me by surprise when I heard those voices outside, slowly rising and drowning out the telly. It was only when the dog started bristling and whining at the front window that I realised what it was. You should have seen the fear in her eyes! But when I peeked between the blinds I couldn’t actually see anybody. They must have passed’. ‘It was difficult to tell if they were right outside or further away’ agrees Mrs Winters of Verdant Rise ‘but I remember thinking it was a bit late for carol singers. I was about to put the kids to bed. The strange thing was I soon forgot about all that and was just stood there in the hallway, listening out for all these old songs. They took me right back to Christmas when I was young. That’s when I realised the kids had gone quiet. They were no longer sat in the front room. You won’t believe where I found them. They were stood at the back door in the pyjamas, like they were in a trance. Just facing the door, waiting to go out, like a pair of cats. I don’t know what came over them, why they suddenly wanted to play outside on such a cold night. Luckily the singing had died away by that point and I managed to coax them back in front of the TV for Olly Murs’ Festive Funbag.  I suppose in a hundred years time we’ll all be singing his songs instead!’

So far these seasonal anecdotes may have left the reader with little more than an impression of a typical Christmas in Lethmachen. However it was the third account we were offered that led us to re-evaluate the statements provided by Mrs Winters and Mrs Smiley, and question the true nature of events. A rather restless eleven year old boy approached us with the following story concerning his encounter with those elusive carol singers: ‘Nobody ever believes what I say but this is what happened. I was upstairs at my bedroom window and heard those carol singers coming up from the church. I could see their lights and cloaks. Only when they knocked at our door my dad didn’t answer, which wasn’t like him. Later he said he didn’t know why, just didn’t like the way the knocking sounded. Everyone will tell you I hate church and I hate Christmas carols, but for some reason that night I really wanted to go outside and hear them singing. It was like I’d been hypnotised by that magician on TV. Even though the sounds had started moving away I begged my dad to give me two pound coins and I rushed out to pay the singers. Yet I couldn’t see them anymore, just hear them in the distance, heading back down to the church. It was really cold out, there was frost on the grass, and I wondered if all those old people in the choir might die tomorrow from things like arthritis.’ We commended the boy on his concern during this, the season of good will.

‘When I reached the church gate I couldn’t see anyone inside but I still heard singing. It sounded like it was coming from everywhere in the graveyard, like the carollers had gathered in a circle around the church. You know how creepy that place looks after dark, with the broken trees and crooked spire? Well, I didn’t really want to go through the gate but I swear I couldn’t stop myself. Walking up the path it seemed like the singers were moving in and surrounding me. I still couldn’t see them though, only hear their voices. All I could definitely see were shadows moving. Two of the songs sounded a bit like ‘Hark the Herald Angels’ and ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’. You know, the one with all those words I don’t like about hopes and fears. All the time it seemed like the singing was getting louder and louder, trapping me, forcing me back towards the church. I remember the door was open but it was dark inside. For a minute I thought about running to the church and shutting myself in. Then I thought that this might be what they all wanted, so I didn’t. Instead I noticed this gap in the graveyard wall where the stones had fallen in. So I made a break for it and didn’t stop running until I was back out on Church Road and realised I still had those two coins in my hand. My secret is, I think, that I only managed to get away because I couldn’t hear the singing properly. I fell off my bike last year and now I’m deaf in one ear. It was an accident.’


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