Rector’s Letter for February
When I was in seminary training to be a priest, many new years ago, it was a standing joke amongst my friends that I hated February. It wasn’t a difficult conclusion to draw. We were at Cuddesdon, a theological college in the middle of the Oxfordshire countryside. Such places tend to be rather intense and inward looking at the best of times, and the isolation of this one’s setting made it even more so than usual. A group of youngish people thrown together intentionally in a mixture of Nineteenth Century Gothic revival architecture, a sort of monastic timetable and rather intense politics in the middle 1980s, both in terms of church and state combined to make it both a serious and a silly place.
And for me, for the three years I was there, each time, it felt as though the worst part of the year was February. I said this to those around me most days throughout the month, so no wonder they took the Mickey. I had some reason to be gloomy, I’d come to cold North Oxfordshire from working for the church in Paris, a city which is radiant every month except in August. I had a girlfriend who was in London, and emphatically not in Cuddesdon. There was much scope in February for staring out of Neo-Gothic windows and looking at frozen lawns. Rooms were cold and dark, and hot water unreliable. It felt as though January had something going for it, March harboured at least the seeds of revival, but February was an at least mercifully foreshortened interlude of misery.
My feelings about the month shifted about ten years after I had left Cuddesdon, the girlfriend I had missed so much there and I had married, and indeed we had had our three children. We were back after seven years of living and working in London in Hereford Diocese, there was an expectation that clergy should have a retreat each year, a time set apart for reflection and prayer, and so for many years I took up time spending the best part of a week in whatever cottage I could find to rent in North Pembrokshire. Spring comes early to the valleys out of the Preseli mountains. Even if the peaty earth is still hard the brooks flow noisily between banks where the frost is fading and snowdrops and then daffodils were beginning to flower. Soft Atlantic winds breathe warmth into the land even before Lent begins. New Year is a date, February is a beginning…