The evenings are drawing in and the trees are giving us their annual display of autumnal hues so it must be Harvest Festival time. Church flower arrangements reflect the bounteous season and the their generous collections donated for distribution to the needy and I am reminded of this poem (“Diary of a church mouse” by Sir John Betjemen) - as ever, a wry observation of the (Christian) human condition.
Here among the long-discarded cassocks,
Damp stools and half split-open hassocks,
Here where the vicar never looks
I nibble through old service books.
Lean and alone I spend my days
Behind this Church of England baize
I share my dark forgotten room
With two oil-lamps and half a broom.
The cleaner never bothers me,
So here I eat my frugal tea.
My bread is sawdust mixed with straw;
My jam is polish for the floor.
Christmas and Easter may be feasts
For congregations and for priests,
And so may Whitsun. All the same,
They do not fill my meagre frame.
For me the only feast at all
Is Autumn’s Harvest Festival,
When I can satisfy my want
With ears of corn around the font.
I climb the eagle’s brazen head
To burrow through a loaf of bread.
I scramble up the pulpit stair
And gnaw the marrows hanging there.
It is enjoyable to taste
These items 'ere they go to waste,
But how annoying when one finds
That other mice with pagan minds
Come into church my food to share
Who have no proper business there.
Two field mice who have no desire
To be baptized, invade the choir.
A large and most unfriendly rat
Comes in to see what we are at.
He says he thinks there is no God
And yet he comes … it’s rather odd.
This year he stole a sheaf of wheat
(It screened our special preacher’s seat),
And prosperous mice from fields away)
Come in to hear our organ play,
And under cover of its notes
Ate through the altar’s sheaf of oats.
A Low Church mouse, who thinks that I
Am too papistical and High,
Yet somehow doesn’t think it wrong
To munch through Harvest Evensong
While I who starve the whole year through
Must share my food with rodents who
Except at this time of the year
Not once inside the church appear.
Within the human world I know
Such going on could not be so,
For human beings only do
What their religion tells them to.
They read the Bible every day
And always, night and morning, pray,
And just like me, the good church mouse,
Worship each week in God’s own house,
But all the same it’s strange to me
How very full the church can be
With people I don’t see at all
Except at Harvest Festival.
- Submitted by Gill Gibson-Piggot, WFWI Trustee