Keeping the Church in Order
When the Parish Church was built in Harston in the 15th Century, replacing earlier church buildings, it could accommodate the whole population of Harston. It lay at the heart of the village, cementing the social fabric in shared worship, sustaining people through good times and bad, and disseminating information about religious, legal and political matters. The Church could be a place of refuge, and a source of solace, giving spiritual education while also reinforcing a collective sense of duty and obligation.
The Church’s purpose and the size of its congregations have changed over the centuries, but it still remains a place for everyone in the community. The building itself has endured through many cycles of decay and restoration, with people frequently agonising over how to raise money to keep it in good order. Jesus College, in return for the gift of Church land several centuries ago, remains responsible for repairs to the chancel. Under varying arrangements over the years, the Vicar and churchwardens have been responsible for all other repairs. In earlier centuries they relied on the proceeds from small pockets of land and from the ‘tithes’ - effectively a ten per cent tax on income from land – that kept parish churches afloat into the nineteenth century.
Beyond this, much has depended on the generosity of individuals and the goodwill of the community, supplemented, in recent years, by access to grants from heritage organisations. Churches are surveyed every five years and advice given on the work that needs to be done. For the last 15 years, Norman Jones, a member of the congregation, has generously given huge amounts of time to overseeing our restoration and development projects.
Over this period, external stonework has been extensively repaired. The chancel has been re-roofed. The tower has been underpinned and much of it rebuilt. An annexe with a servery and an accessible toilet has been added, in a style and using materials in keeping with the historic building. The heating has been replaced, and work has begun on areas of re-plastering and internal redecoration.
We are hugely grateful to a number of grant-awarding bodies, including English Heritage and the Cambridge Historic Churches Trust, for helping to make all this possible. Grants have only been made because of the strength of local commitment to ensuring our church survives and serves our community into the future. Members of the congregation, and countless others who value the church, have contributed generously through gifts to the restoration fund, and through organising and participating in a host of activities and social and events. Fundraising for the church goes alongside our broader commitment to charitable giving for other causes and we want to continue this balance.
We are looking to the future with plans that include replacing old pews with more versatile seating and seeing to much-needed internal redecoration. Our aim is for the church to be welcoming and open to the whole community, and to extend further its contribution to the life of our village.
Thank you for your support.
‘What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.’
These lines were written more than a century ago as an antidote to the pace of modern life. I remember them running through my head as a child: a licence to stop and look, to take delight in the greenness of grass, or the sway of wind in the trees.
Many years later, I was being interviewed for a job in teacher training in Lincoln. Looking around uphill Lincoln, in the lee of its magnificent cathedral, I saw a small group ahead of me. A boy of about eight, hand in hand with two younger siblings, was standing and staring, transfixed by the building that soared into the sky above them. This little scene helped persuade me to take the job, and I spent thirteen years close to this great building. During that time, I worked with many school groups who visited Lincoln and spent time exploring the cathedral. We walked with one group slowly through the exchequer gate arch so that the floodlit cathedral, golden against the velvet blue of twilight, loomed up in front of them. The children, giddy with delight, cartwheeled on the grass in front of the west doors, and lay spreadeagled, gazing upwards in awe.
We took children into the choir to see the misericords, and would then sit down and just look. For ten minutes or more we let the silence seep into them as their necks craned and their eyes roved around the lofty vaulting, the intricate carving, the arches, the organ pipes… Children are natural observers and less imprisoned by time than adults. Yet they often lack opportunity to be still, to reflect and to focus deeply, so the belief grows that the young cannot concentrate for long, have a short attention span, and need constant entertainment.
Despite the thundering traffic, ours is a village that offers the chance to slow the pace of life, to observe the trees and the changing colours of autumn, and to sense the presence of the past. The parish church, our oldest building, is open to everyone every day. Young or old, churchgoer or not, we can stand and stare, gaze upwards in wonder and, for a moment, let time stand still.