Masham Church: God of the Living

I called at Masham Parish Church this summer in North Yorkshire. It is one of the privileged few northern structures to make it into Simon Jenkins’ Best 1000 Churches. It is obvious why- that huge tower, the massive arches, the Saxon debris. Yet I was struck by how older churches, like this, are characterised by death. Some seem more mausoleum than living temple. At Masham, the various landowners who enjoyed ruling its vicinity were pleased to erect monuments to themselves on the walls and ceilings.

The ground around it has thousands of cadavers stuffed below its sod and random fragments of centuries-old burials are displayed on ledges and spare bits of floor. An old church with a millennium of interments, funerals and gravestones must surely resemble the Hebrew sheol, the Pit, the place of the dead.

Proudly shown on CCTV screens towards the tower base are the nests of five pairs of swifts and their chicks. Up in the tower, where humans may not usually enter, there is life, and young life, too. May our churches be places of life and vitality, not death and decay.

“He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken.” Mark 12:27