Remember, remember the 5th of November…
November for me as a child always meant the wild excitement of bonfires, sparklers, fireworks, bangers with soup and “a penny for the guy!” Of course, the story of its origins held little interest beyond the fascination of a plot to blow up the king and some politicians. The Gunpowder Plot of 1605, like most crazy schemes, started in a pub – the Duck and Drake in the Strand – and of course famously failed. In celebration of his survival, King James ordered that the people of England should have a great bonfire on the night on 5th November with parish bells still being rung some 200 years later to celebrate Fawkes’ failed attempt.
The darker side of the story of course, hides some terrible persecution and repressive legislation against Catholic sympathizers, which subsequently resulted in their being regarded as “the enemy within”. Of the 13 Catholic conspirators that night, eight were executed, the others being tracked down and shot while holed-up at Holbeche House in Staffordshire.
As the years have passed, Bonfire night it seems is on the wane. History however would appear to say that this isn’t as recent a decline as perhaps we might think. Indeed as early as 1875 the antiquarian Rev’d Thistelton-Dyer, of Penzance noted: ‘the 5th of November is not observed by the populace with nearly so much festive diversion as in former times’!
Today the demise of Bonfire Night is often blamed on overzealous health and safety regulations, yet the real culprit it seems is the rise of Hallowe’en, celebrated five days earlier. Four years ago, Hallowe’en was said to be worth in excess of £300m in the UK and for all the largest retailers, it is now the biggest sales event after Christmas and Easter.
So what might we make of all this? Today with a new wonderful Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby and an equally sincere and Godly leader in Pope Francis, I sense a remarkable opportunity for growing unity and affection between these two parts of the Christian church: unity and reconciliation are, after all, at the heart of the Christian message.
So within this parish, for my part, unity is central in all I long for within the Widcombe church family. Diversity and differing traditions should not and must not become a cause of division, mistrust and fear, but rather offer the possibility of a beautiful picture of oneness, encouragement and love that itself is a mirror of what we see in the Trinity: three distinct persons, loving, honouring and embracing the other.
Priest in Charge Loves church pioneering, family, guitars, Macs, jeeps and Jesus, not necessarily in that order...