Dear parishioners and friends,
Being the rector of two village churches, a recent TV series (Village of the Year) caught my eye. I managed to watch some of them (recorded to view at a convenient time). 100 shortlisted villages from all over the UK were featured on TV and eventually whittled down to just four, one from each of four huge regions. They were the seaside fishing village of Beer (Devon), Broughshare, an agricultural village (Northern Ireland), Bamburgh (Northumberland) with its huge historic castle, and Hampstead Norreys (a village the size of Frittenden in rural Berkshire). Perhaps you know these and others that were featured?
As even the list of finalists suggests, not all the villages in the heats were world famous or spectacularly beautiful (though some were both). However they did all celebrate and make the most of their own environment, unique location, heritage and opportunities. The villages were not simply museum pieces frozen in time, even if a rich historic heritage and some conservation rules made even sensitive development hard in some instances.
Just as here in Frittenden, a lot of creativity was clearly evident. Some old traditions and quirky local customs were enjoyed and maintained, with new activities and customs (sometimes equally quirky) being devised, launched and enjoyed by a very broad range of people, often in large numbers. Willingness to embrace sensitive changes and helpful innovations was a frequent feature of these villages. They included new uses for old buildings and a wide range of emerging and diverse new community activities, hopefully catering for as many people of all ages as possible. The main prize of the competition was a £10,000 grant towards a new community-building project identified by local villagers themselves.
Churches, involved through their members of various ages, their buildings, schools and other resources, were often seen in this series to be significant contributors to the quality of village life. This is just as it should be, if churches are fulfilling their calling to love God and to love their neighbours as themselves.
Rev Fred Olney