May 2017

Dear Friends

There is no doubt that however you look at it, language is beautiful. Whether you are an advocate of Shakespeare, poetry or modern prose, the language in which something is written can convey so much.

I was thinking at this time of year of the 18th century proverb:

'Ne'er cast a clout till May be out'

What does that mean, both you and I may wonder? Well it seems as though a very basic interpretation might be “don’t hit anyone until the month of May is over”! But surely not?

Since at least the early 15th century, the archaic word 'clout' has been used variously to mean 'a blow to the head', 'a clod of earth or (clotted) cream' or 'a fragment of cloth, or clothing'. So now we are getting somewhere. “Ne’er cast a clout” could mean “don’t discard your clothing”!

But what about May? Does this refer to the month of May or something else?

May blossom, the flowering of the hawthorn bush has, for centuries, been a sign in England that the month of May has arrived (although with climate change and warmer spring weather, these creamy white flowers tend to be appearing several weeks earlier these days).

So perhaps our proverb could be interpreted as:

“Don’t discard your winter clothing until the hawthorn bush is blossoming”

which seems to bear little resemblance to the original wording.

One of the criticisms we, as a church tend to get these days is that the language we use is out of date. And I suppose that we could hold our hands up and, to a certain extent, agree. However, we are doing what we can to rectify the situation. Our church services often use contemporary language and there are many versions of the bible including contemporary English versions as well as versions in Cockney rhyming slang and the language of the city street, especially appealing to the urban reader.

So as we approach the summer, we can cast off our winter clothes, turn off the central heating and look forward to our holidays. But don’t forget where the church is – we will always give you a warm welcome. And one more thing – we might just be getting to the time when we are able to introduce a new parish priest to you (nothing decided at the time of writing).

With best wishes to you all.

Chris Miller

Licensed Lay Minister and Churchwarden