As I drove home from a big family wedding this weekend, I decided to meander up through the A-roads, enjoying the English countryside, windows down, taking the time to stop and sit beside rivers or drop in to visit other relatives on a rare Sunday off. The weather was glorious, no other words are necessary. Let’s face it, you were there, weren’t you?
I love leisurely drives, you end up talking about all sorts and we’d just had the ‘what would you do if…’ conversation. I think I was a gardner and my friend was an animal sanctuary type and then we’d had to digress into subsistence and smallholdings and putting food on the table and all that malarky. We’d righted the current economic difficulties with pragmatism and lots of ‘obvious’ policies that have been bandied around every dinner table (or tea or supper tables, depending upon one’s rank and file) from here to the ex-Pats living in villas ‘specially built for them on a private Island just off Samui in Thailand.
I knew it would soon be time to jump back on to the motorway, but just at the moment I was busy explaining to my passenger about ignoring the signs for the M6 as the first two actually took you South again, I missed the one I did want. Oh well, I’d never been to Stafford before. Thus I discovered it was like a quiet Market Town and has a Castle, whereas in my mind it had taken on a concrete mini-roundabouted Telfordianism of Milton Keynesian proportions.
Small as it is, before I knew it I was haring up the next slip road when I saw the most radiant person I’d seen since Holly walked up the aisle. Holding up piece of card I struggled to read ‘Knutsford’ from, red-cheeked Kate was as surprised at my stopping as was my poor passenger experiencing so-many Gs to so much braking in seconds flat. Not quite sure why I’d done it – I’m not a perennial hitch-hiker picker-upper – I then had to jump out and shift the luggage from a working conference and two independent travellers wedding kit and kaboodle, including mammoth bouquet, around a spacially challenged hatchback. (Oh dear lovely Honda CRV, how I miss thee! Still, Delilah is the pay-off, so hatchback it is.) Kate was absolutely delighted having almost given up hope of catching a lift that evening. It seems it was meant to be. Serendipity.
Throwing Kate’s tiny tent pack and sleeping bag roll and – I think – a small rucksack easily into the little space that was left, we then heard tales of her life living from organic farm to organic farm as she travelled around the country offering labour for bed and board. We learned about scything, and weaving hedges, and tending to vegetables. We heard a little about Kate’s family and how they had come to accept her calling. We heard about her dreams.
She had not long spent three months in Tipi Valley (see below) to see if she would be able to be accepted into the community on a longer term basis and it seems that all was well. It’s a place that might allow Kate’s dreams to come true. Naturally we shared occupations, and on hearing that I was a priest, she said that her grandfather had been a vicar but had put her off religion as he wasn’t particularly pleasant to homeless, to name but one of his less than loving traits. She’d lived in a village when the first woman vicar arrived, witnessing people making a public spectacle out of boycotting her in many ways.
I was – and still am – thoroughly ashamed that the Church that claims to represent Jesus Christ who didn’t jostle, jab or undermine for power and privilege, and never – as far as I am aware - boycott anyone or anything from the most self-righteous of Pharisees to crucified convicted sinners, male or female – had given somebody living out a vocation to co-exist with creation and with her fellow human beings the idea that Christianity seems to accept people being hateful, judgemental, excluding and divisive. I sometimes feel that my role is to apologise, above all others, as I did yet again in this instance, writing the wrongs as best I could with the truth of all we are called to be as disciples of Christ. She totally, and I meant totally got Jesus and what He taught. It’s a no-brainer if you’re going to co-exist peacefully in truly communal living as the disciples appear to have done in Acts.
After she left the vehicle, smiling with true joy as she walked off quite literally – I’m not being cheesy, honest – into the sunset, I spent a long time thinking about our encounter. She’d put her money where her mouth was. If I remember rightly, Kate had a degree in environmental and/or political studies on some sort or another, so this was no drop-out, fair-weather, hippy existence. It was and is an inhabited political, social and spiritual choice that had already lasted almost a decade.
What struck me most was that she was not only free, clearly vibrantly healthy and without guile – a rare gift in these days – but that she was fulfilling many of the commandments, not least the dominical ones, whilst some of us who might claim to represent Christ more than others whether by faith or office or both, are still visibly proving to the world just how hateful and divisive we can be, and how intolerant we are of people who are not like ‘us’ whether that be through ethnicity, gender, sexuality, education, class, theological convictions, employment status, or even our status on the ‘nomadic to get ‘orff moi land’ scale.
I believe I’m the first priest that has ever given Kate a lift.
I sincerely hope that there’ll be many others, for their sake if not hers.
75 adults and 50 children living low-impact on approx. 160 acres, Tipi Village is possibly the most long-established and biggest ‘eco-community’ in the UK. Originally only one dwelling (a caravan) was granted planning permission. Since 1984 the community has been involved in a long-running planning dispute with the local council and successive Secretaries of State for Wales, which has so far involved six public enquiries, four high court appeals and a judicial review. However, the authorities failed to move anyone off the land and Brig has just been granted planning permission.
Brig Oubridge on 07778 553339
Tipi Village, Werulass, Cwmdu, Llandeilo, Carmarthen, SA19 7EE.