Family Lessons 75: Walking to Gisburne Church

Having opened the chapel one afternoon last month, I was invited to tea with some chapel ladies in Clitheroe. I walked to the bus stop in Gisburn, which was a half-hour hike. I took the short cut by turning left at Howgill and walking up the narrow lane towards Gisburne (the village's orginal spelling before the railway came to town), past one of the static caravan sites and the farm shop at Gazegill. The higgledy hamlet of Howgill is where my Tudor ancestors likely lived. One Brian Ellill died there (‘Vxor Briani Ellill de Howgill penultimo die Julij’, Gisburn Parish Registers, 1576)  who was likely the grandfather or great-grandfather of my confirmed 11x great-grandfather, Bryan Ellill of that same parish who died 1651.

Assuming the Brian who died in 1576 is indeed mine and that he was an oldish man when he carked (and many, back then, were not), he will have seen a great many changes in his parish church at Gisburn. Growing up, he would have been used to the old medieval pattern of masses, Latin liturgies and church ales. In his early adulthood, he would have witnessed the first destruction of images under Henry VIII, their return under Mary I, and their more permanent banishment under Elizabeth I. Under little Edward VI, the altars were smashed and wooden communion tables installed; rood screens taken down and worship spoken in English. As Goodman Ellill traipsed up that lane (the surface of which is little improved since Elizabethan times) he must have wondered what royal interference with his religious life would occur next. Was he to worship a wafer? Worship through a priest? Hear a long sermon? Pray for the dead? State regulation of worship seldom ends well, and tends to distract from Jesus Christ and His amazing gospel. Even fashions, fads and customs not imposed from above can cause us to look away from the pure truth of sin's forgiveness. If the Brians Ellill had a cynical view of the Church with its frequent changes, revisions and reversions, can we blame them? Perhaps not, but the God whom we worship at church changeth not. In a topsy-turvy world in a constant state of flux, the constancy of God is a most reassuring principle. 

For why? the Lord our God is good,
his mercy is for ever sure;
his truth at all times firmly stood,
and shall from age to age endure.

-William Kethe, 1561, from Psalm 100

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
there is no shadow of turning with thee.
Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been, thou forever wilt be.

Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
all I have needed thy hand hath provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

-Thomas Chisholm, 1923