Castle Acre Pulpit

Castle Acre is a most attractive Norfolk village with an impressive pair of medieval ruins- a castle and an abbey. Still roofed and functioning, however, is the equally ancient medieval church of St James. Within are some rather splendid medieval paintings on the pulpit and rood screen. The colours are surprisingly vibrant, so I suspect some well-intentioned Victorian painter has touched them up, though sympathetically. On the pulpit are depicted Saints Augustine, Gregory, Jerome and Ambrose. One’s red cardinal’s hat has been left undamaged as has Gregory’s papal tiara, which any puritan or reformer worth his salt would have been the first to attack, though their faces have been removed. Even the Victorian artists didn’t dare add noses, mouths or ears. There, those four ‘Latin Doctors’ of the church sit, faceless and anonymous. If the local protestants tolerated their colourful apparel and garish headgear, they weren’t prepared to have these dead saints peer at them. Removing their faces somehow rendered them mere artwork, rather than objects of devotion or tempting inveiglers of superstition.


In recent months, I have led our live worship wearing a mask. This is so my breath cannot disseminate infection during song, but also to lead by example. I find it an obtrusive barrier, an imposition. It is not comfortable, though the law requiring them was not intended for our comfort. Yet I rather like the sense of anonymity it gives me. Once upon a time, I sought to share witticisms with the people whose worship I attempted to lead. I would regale them with stories and anecdotes from the week past. It was all unmistakably part of the Marsden brand of doing church. Nowadays, I wish there to be less of me, and more of Him. I cannot fully blank out my face, disguise my voice or lead worship from behind a screen. Thankfully, the masks will one day go, yet I shall miss the enhanced discretion they bestowed. It is more difficult to hide one’s personality when preaching, yet we can surely seek to promote Him rather than self. The preacher may raise his voice and arms, but it is the Lord Jesus to whom he must point and honour.

He must increase, but I must decrease.