Selworthy Church nestles high on the slopes of Selworthy Beacon, just off the main road leading to Porlock and Minehead. The beautiful, medieval church is one of many across Exmoor, some of which are only accessible on foot or horseback. Selworthy stands out (I took this picture some miles away) because of its shining white colour. This comes from its being regularly coated with a mixture of lime and tallow to protect it from the elements. Although other churches in the area were covered in a similar way a century ago, it was common practice at the time, locals attribute Selworthy church’s colour to a vicar who frequented a popular pub some distance away. He decided to paint the stone white to help guide him home through the dark and murky Exmoor nights after a hard evening’s drinking.
Exmoor Churches are places of celebration, memory and remembering. Weddings, baptisms, funerals, thankfulness for the harvest, Christmas and Easter, national commemorations, private struggles and times of plague and disaster are brought into the churches. The churches belong to the communities where they are located and they are places where the community’s stories, past, present and future, are told. Everybody is welcome: nobody should be excluded, regardless of belief.
Many of the community’s stories are buried in the churchyard: some are living in the village. Others are written in church and churchyard in wood, stone and stained glass where they are woven into the stories that have been told by the Church for over 2000 years. Visitors to Exmoor’s communities and churches enrich the stories.
The marriage between the stories of community and church produces meaning and helps make sense of life. Embedded deep within the story and the stone are hope, reconciliation, new possibilities and new beginnings. It may take some careful searching, but they are there. These churches, usually built on sites that have been regarded as sacred for thousands of years, are breweries of Exmoor’s rich and deep spirituality.
In a time when social media edges its way into many of our lives and when broadband is available in the remotest villages on Exmoor, story telling remains an important part of life and community. There is a need for human beings to narrate their hopes and fears, their joys and sorrows. If we cannot tell our stories, then, one way or another, our stories will tell us. While instagram, twitter and facebook provide platforms for some, others need different communities where we can be heard, valued, celebrated and comforted.
The churches with their communities scattered across Exmoor are reminders of our need for places to tell our stories. They are also reminders that our stories have a past and a future as well as a present. Narrating them helps us make sense of life.
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