Thought for the Month (August 2008)

Dear Friends,

August, the holiday month, the 'high season'. August, the holiday month which my wife and I, together with many others of our generation, avoid and take our holidays earlier or later in the year.

On holiday we 'collect' gardens; that is, we visit gardens up and down the country which are open to the general public, some National Trust and some run by private individuals. Last June we visited Mount Edgecumbe; not the one along Mount Ephraim, but the family seat of the Earl of Something on the Milbrook peninsula which forms the western shore to Plymouth Sound.

The house is at the centre of a two thousand acre country park and was surrounded, as we had heard, by a 'formal garden' which we found rather disappointing. So we strolled off through the park in a southerly direction to look for the Orangery and lunch at the cafeteria within it.

And lo! There was a garden, a very pretty Italian garden complete with clipped yews, a fountain, statues and flying steps reminiscent of the Italian villas seen by his Lordship on his Grand Tour. But what made our visit really worthwhile were the secret, hard-to-find gardens buried deep in adjoining woodland. There was a New Zealand fern garden, a French Chateau garden, an English rose-garden and a Japanese garden, all beautifully laid-out and maintained, and yet we scarcely saw another soul in these gardens all afternoon! And this was just a few hundred yards from the busy passenger ferry to Plymouth.

Later the Mount Edgecumbe experience got me thinking about the Church and the Bible. The beautiful gardens we saw were well hidden in some very ordinary woodland and nobody much went into them, just as many folks today find God well hidden in very ordinary Churches, and do not go into them either. True, there was a sketch-map of the park indicating there were gardens in the woods, but we did not think to study it sufficiently carefully. In the same way most households are said to possess a copy of the Bible, but few ever open or read it. And yet we are told that there is a spiritual hunger around us at least as strong as my desire to visit 'open gardens' while on holiday!

So how could Plymouth City Council encourage more visitors to enjoy their Mount Edgecumbe gardens? How can we encourage more people to visit the 'garden' of God's Church and to enjoy the beauty of Jesus to be found within it? And how can we get people to read God's map of his 'garden', the Holy Bible? A simple signpost or Church noticeboard doesn't seem to work. But then you know about the Mount Edgecumbe gardens because I have told you about them. Perhaps we need to tell our friends about God's Church and His Bible a bit more often, and face-to-face- and with enthusiasm!

A happy holiday month to you all.

Bob Webb.

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Tunbridge Wells United Reformed Church