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Shelswell Group of Parishes

Minister's letter

Beating the Bounds - Bursting the Bounds

This year the month of May brings two Bank Holidays, Rogation-tide, Ascension Day and Pentecost (Whitsun). Rogation Days fall on the three days before Ascension Day. Long ago the Church established these as days of prayer, fasting, and processions to ask God for a good harvest, protection against natural disasters, and forgiveness of sins.

old pictureIn Waddesdon Parish, where I was a Team Minister, it was the custom to ‘Beat the Bounds’ every seven years at Rogation-tide. This happened only once during my time there, but I was unable to patrol the boundaries of the Parish as I was recovering from an operation. Plenty of other villagers did so, covering around 40 miles over two days.

In times gone by youngsters of a parish, usually boys, accompanied the clergy, churchwardens and parishioners around the boundaries. The clergy would pray for God’s blessing on the land along the way.

People carried long birch or willow twigs to beat specific landmarks such as an old tree or border stone. Sometimes the boys themselves were beaten with the twigs, and might have their heads bumped against the boundary marker, or even be stood on their heads at certain points! This was to help impress the location of the markers on their memories, so that they could in turn pass on the knowledge to future generations.

Before maps were common, beating the bounds was a way to re-affirm the limits of a particular parish. With the advent of accurate maps there is no longer any real need to ‘Beat the Bounds’, and few parishes continue to do so.

Does a parish mentality still exist, even though our individual parishes are now part of a Benefice? It might be a challenge to walk the perimeter of the Shelswell Group of Parishes at Rogation to familiarise ourselves with the extent of the Benefice, but in May perhaps we need to think about ‘Bursting our Bounds’.

The Bible records that people from various parts of the Roman Empire gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate Pentecost, a Jewish Festival which came fifty days after Passover. Jesus’ followers were also present. Suddenly the room they were in was filled with sound of a rushing wind, and tongues of fire appeared above each of their heads. This outpouring of the Holy Spirit, fifty days after the resurrection, gave the disciples the ability to burst out from that room and preach the good news about Jesus to people who lived close by, and those who had come from much further afield.

Despite speaking various languages, the hearers could all understand what was being said. Over three thousand people believed the message about Jesus that day and were baptised. They were united by a common faith, even though they came from different places, and then went home to continue spreading the Gospel.

Pentecost is a festival of unity, and a time to go beyond the borders where we feel comfortable. We have an opportunity to do just this at the Pentecost Event at Evenley Wood Garden on Sunday 20th May.

Will you ‘Burst your Parish Bounds’ to be there in unity with fellow Christians from around the Benefice? Hopefully we will go home refreshed and encouraged.

Liz Welters - Associate Minister