Parish Hall Centenary Sermon
Service of Thanksgiving for the Centenary of Shawford Parish Hall
All Saints’ Church, Compton on Sunday 8th December 1996
Sermon Preached by the Rector, Rev P L S Barrett.
I believe it was Dr Johnson who said that he expected heaven to contain the joys of the countryside and the amenities of the town. He may not have been thinking of commuters, but one of the great features of the last hundred years has been the enormous growth in the number of people who want to live in the countryside and commute to an urban job. The opening of Shawford Station in 1882 meant that for the first time businessmen could enjoy living in the countryside here and also travel to work in Southampton or Winchester (or indeed London) within a short space of time. It was around that time that the population of this parish (which had remained at between 200 and 300 people for most of the 19th century) began to grow. It doubled between 1881 and 1901, and by 1931, when it reached a figure of 1162, there were over four times as many people living here as there had been fifty years earlier. Today there are over 1200 adults and perhaps another 200 or so children below the age of eighteen.
Compton & Shawford are still described as villages by those who live here, though I believe that technically this is the kind of community which is known as ‘urban shadow’. Nevertheless, there are all kinds of activities and societies within the parish which help to give it a sense of identity and purpose, despite the fact that a motorway and a main railway line run through it. Today, we give thanks for the centenary of Shawford Parish Hall and all that it has meant in the life of this parish over the last hundred years; for the wisdom and foresight of those who planned and built it; for the work of caretakers over the years and all who have maintained it. We remember too the good use to which it has been put by many local clubs and societies, such as the Working Men’s Institute, the W.I., the Compton & Shawford Festival Choir, All Saints’ Guild, and the Heathcote Players. At different times over the last hundred years it has been used for all kinds of activities, including a hospital, a post office, a theatre, a drill hall for the Home Guard, a classroom for evacuated schools and for Keep Fit and First Aid classes. It has also been the natural venue for all kinds of private functions. I remember particularly the great teaparty held a few years ago to celebrate the 90th birthday of Mrs Kathleen Phillips. Among the guests was Mrs Dorothy Longworth, widow of Bishop Tom Longworth, who kept things in perspective by going round the room saying, “I’m 91, you know”. The hall has played its part when the parish has celebrated coronations and jubilees, and so helped to bring together those who live in the different areas of the parish. Most villages are a community of communities, a complex, polycentric and fragmented social unit, and this parish is a good example of this.
Just about a hundred years ago a German sociologist, Ferdinand Tönnies, said that there were two ideal ways in which people related to the place where they lived. One he called gemeinschaft, which reflected the traditional, smallscale, cohesive type of community associated with the preindustrial village. The other way he called gesellschaft, in which people from different places and backgrounds joined together in various activities or societies, not necessarily confined to the places where they lived or worked. In the last hundred years the evidence for Tönnies’ insights has developed markedly, and today it is possible to see that most people are associated with the life of their village either because they identify with it, or because they participate in it. The sense of identification is perhaps strongest in those villages where you can find people whose families have lived there for several generations like the Goldfinches, who lived here over several centuries or who themselves have lived in the same village all their lives. My impression of Compton and Shawford is that now rather fewer people fall into this category. I don’t think there is anyone here, for example, who was living in this parish at the end of First World War.
Here, those who are most active in the life of the parish are those who have moved into Compton and Shawford and express their membership of it by seeking to participate in various local activities. It is because of them that so many local clubs and societies flourish.
For the Christian, both identification and participation nave their model in what God did in Jesus Christ. For we believe that God became Man in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. He identified himself with the human condition in order to free mankind from the effects of sinfulness; and he did this by actually participating in human life, sharing our joys and our sorrows in order that we could share in his risen life. For the Christian, then, the way in which he should lead his own life and share in the life of his neighbours must be modelled on the example of Jesus Christ and this calls for both identification and participation.
In the second reading at this service we heard the promise which Jesus made to his disciples that in his Father’s house there are ‘many mansions’, and that he would prepare a place for each of them if they followed him who is ‘the way, the truth and the life’. The promise is not one of a dull uniformity, in which all the varied gifts of human character are confined by a strict conformity as though heaven is reserved for earnest ‘churchy’ types only. No, Jesus’ promise is that there is unimaginable variety in heaven, and ample room for all the manifold varieties of human skills and achievements to find their destiny.
So our celebrations today and during the next few weeks, as we give thanks for all those ways in which Shawford Parish Hall has played a part in the life of Compton and Shawford over the last one hundred years, are above all a means of giving thanks for the variety of activities that it has enabled to take place there. For participation leads on to identification, and those who participate in the varied activities that have and do take place in the Parish Hall, begin to develop a stronger sense of identification with the life of Compton and Shawford.
Had Samuel Johnson been living a hundred or two years later, he might well have said that the ‘many mansions’ of the heaven which were described by Jesus contained not only the joys of the countryside and the amenities of the town, both of which can be enjoyed by commuters, but that, included among the ‘many mansions’ would be a celestial kind of Parish Hall, not unlike the one whose beauty and greatness were mentioned in our first reading.
And that, when you think of it, is the real reason for our being here today. For in all the manifold events and circumstances of our daily lives we hope sometimes to catch a glimpse of heaven; and we pray that our duties and experiences in this life may, through the grace and providence and mercy of God, somehow fit us for the life of the world to come as we have already sung in one of our hymns:
reproduced by permission of the Rector, Rev P L S Barrett