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Produced by publishers of The Popular Village Monthly



Ministry Matters

(Note from a very small island)




I am writing this while on holiday on the Isles of Scilly. We are regular visitors to this small archipelago 28 miles off the coast of Cornwall. Our stays here always bring us closer to the elements and the harsh realities of life as we spend time on the tiny island of St Agnes.

Here we are literally on the edge. The next land across the Atlantic Sea is America. The infamous Western Rocks just off St Agnes have claimed many lives, including Sir Cloudesley Shovell and 2,000 of his men of the British Fleet in the year 1707. The Bishop Rock Lighthouse, itself an incredible feat of engineering, now warns shipping of the danger. It used to feature at the beginning of the BBC TV news.

Each of the five inhabited islands has its own church or churches. The memorials inside and out record the bravery of the crews of the lifeboats and pilot gigs who went to the rescue of those in danger at sea, as well as those who went to war and never returned. In the Tresco church of St Nicholas we saw a memorial to four members of the Dorrien Smith family who died in the Second World War between 1940 and 1944, at places such as Bayeux and Arras - echoes of the Normandy landings which were commemorated recently.

There are some much older graves too on Scilly dating back to the Bronze Age. These burial mounds, some more obvious than others, are on high points with beautiful views. Nobody knows why there are so many here, although there are various theories.

These are places for visitors to stop and wonder. More recent graves around the church of St Agnes are reminders of the harshness of life here and the cruelty of the sea, with many for young children or shipwrecked mariners. Inside the building there are two striking stained-glass windows by Oriel Hicks. The most recent of these shows two pilot gigs being rowed out to a stricken vessel. The verse from the Bible 'When you pass through the waters I will be with you' is etched on the glass.

The tiny community on this island of St Agnes (population 85 at the time of the 2011 Census) is closely knit. Everyone helps one another. They can be cut off for days in bad weather, so this is a necessity of life. Self-reliance, make-do and mend, grow your own produce, use food from the sea, reduce waste, save water - these all go without saying here. A visit brings one back to the essentials, but the rewards are the incredible beauty of the islands, with beaches to rival the Caribbean and flowers and wildlife in abundance. A true treasure island.

Mary Booth

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