GOD'S ACRE REPORT – 27TH FEBRUARY 2017
To avoid boring repetition year after year, here is a different offering.
Those who visit St. Swithun's will have seen that its flora/fauna varies with the seasons. Spring and early summer are perhaps the most striking in that respect. However, one should not ignore the fact that the longer grassed regimes of mid/late summer, as with the autumnal tints, are just as important in maintaining a healthy bio-diversity. It is precisely this wise balance that makes God's Acre a veritable oasis with regard to invertebrate, insect, mammal, and amphibian life. All this is achieved through the means of a sensitive management plan. God's Acre's classified records of flora/fauna are the equal of any such in the region. St. Swithun's God's Acre is now on its 22nd year.
It is to be noted that the Churchyard Handbook states that the “churchyard is not the same as the area around a house; nor is it simply a curtilage, nor solely a garden. It is the area around a church. The time-honoured name is God's Acre, which presents the sturdy image of a good agricultural field with some solid forest trees on the boundary.......of course, a compromise is needed between an excuse for complete neglect and obsessive tidiness and we commend the simple expedient of cutting the grass short beside paths, to visited graves, on Gardens of Remembrance, and leaving the rest for occasional cutting......This provides the positive encouragement in a stable environment for a rich mixture of flora and fauna so under threat elsewhere.”
On a broader parameter, we live in an age when the environment is on the back foot. In the name of progress, economic growth, high living standards and development, we are gradually destroying God's gift, the natural creation. The serious demographic rise in the UK's population necessitates the building of hundreds of thousands of new homes, with accompanying infrastructure, by 2020. We already read that in the last 15 years there has been a 20% decline in plant species, 20% in hedgerows, 15% in ponds, 20% decline in woodland wildlife and meadow life.
In terms of faith, believers are called on to be wise stewards of resources. Genesis 2:15 is the very best short definition of man's responsibilities for nature. It says, “Adonai took the person and put him in the garden of Eden to cultivate and care for it.” There are two significant Hebrew verbs here. Le'ovdah, literally “to serve it.” Adam is called to work the earth from which he was formed. Leshomrah, literally, to guard and care for it. Indeed, leshomrah is used in later Biblical explanation to describe the responsibilities of a guardian of property that does not belong to him or her! He or she must exercise vigilance and is liable to claims of negligence if they do not.
We do not own nature. We are its trustees, its wise stewards, on behalf of its owner, God the Creator. We are trustees for the sake of future generations. We are charged to be wise in stewardship. That is why we have, in God's Acre, a splendid array of wild flowers, myriads of different insects, hedgehogs, song thrushes, owls, grass snakes, et al, et al.
John Betjeman wrote a poem, probably tongue in cheek, about churchyards. “I hate to see old churchyards/Tombstones stacked round like playing cards/Along the wall which then encloses/A trim new lawn and standard roses/Bird-baths and objects such as fill a/Garden in some suburban villa/The Bishop comes; the bird-bath's blessed/Our churchyard's now a “garden of rest”/And so it may; all the same/Graveyard's a much more honest name.”