It was an utter privilege on Friday to leave our hotel (a little earlier than most of us would have liked) and travel by bus ninety-seven miles (whatever that is in kilometres) all the way to Beaulieu Abbey, the church from which Newcastle’s first bishop William Tyrell came. The current church was a former refectory for monks of the area; the grounds house the ruins of the original monastery, destroyed under Henry VIII during the period of turmoil which saw the monasteries dissolved and their riches taken under the Crown. The entire area sits on land held by Lord Montagu, rich with trees and greenery — and a motoring museum, but we didn’t get time to see that.
We performed a concert in the Abbey church — we stood under the plaque gifted by our diocese to the Bishop Tyrrel’s church, and we sang music of England and France and Australia, music written in our own diocese. We remembered Bishop Tyrell, roaming his diocese which stretched from the Hawksbury River in the south to Cape York in the north, caring for the brand new Church of England from horseback. We shared the knowledge that we are linked to the folk of Beaulieu not only through a long-dead bishop, but also through the faith and the prayers and the love of God that we share. And we sang for them, and they gifted us with a wonderful meal before they sent us on our way.
Some of you might remember Jane, who sang soprano in the choir for six months while she studied in Australia. Six months is not a long time, but she became part of our choir family and we missed her dreadfully when she went back home to England where she now works as a doctor (congratulations on your graduation, Jane!). So it was wonderful to visit her home village and sing a concert for her friends and family, in her very own parish church — a church that was built in the late tenth century, which saw the battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest, which heard the prayers of King Canute, whose daughter lies in a stone coffin beneath the floor. It was a beautiful place, in a picturesque village (we met Jack, the resident cat), with loving, welcoming people. We sang the concert with our dear friend Jane, and although we said goodbye to her afterwards, it’s not forever. Once you’ve been a part of the choir, you always will be, regardless of whether you live on the other side of the planet.
It was a long drive back to our accommodation, and some of us stayed awake for it, and most of us had something of a sleep in on Saturday morning, but Friday was a special day, a day of history and architecture and beautiful scenery and music, and of friendship and the wonderful community of faith.