POETRY: Septuagesima by John Betjeman

Septuagesima by John Betjeman

Septuagesima—seventy days
To Easter’s primrose tide of praise;
The Gesimas—Septua, Sexa, Quinc
Mean Lent is near, which makes you think.
Septuagesima—when we’re told
To “run the race,” to “keep our hold,”
Ignore injustice, not give in, and practice stern self-discipline;
A somewhat unattractive time
Which hardly lends itself to rhyme.
But still it gives the chance to me
To praise our dear old C. of E.
So other churches please forgive
Lines on the church in which I live,
The Church of England of my birth,
The kindest church to me on Earth.
There may be those who like things fully
Argued out, and call you “woolly”;
Ignoring Creeds and Catechism
They say the C. of E.’s “in schism.”
There may be those who much resent
Priest, Liturgy, and Sacrament,
Whose worship is what they call “free,”
Well, let them be so, but for me
There’s refuge in the C. of E.
And when it comes that I must die
I hope the Vicar’s standing by,
I won’t care if he’s “Low” or “High”
For he’ll be there to aid my soul
On that dread journey to its goal,
With Sacrament and prayer and Blessing
After I’ve done my last confessing.
And at that time may I receive
The Grace most firmly to believe,
For if the Christian’s Faith’s untrue
What is the point of me and you?
But this is all anticipating
Septuagesima—time of waiting,
Running the race or holding fast.
Let’s praise the man who goes to light
The church stove on an icy night.
Let’s praise that hard-worked he or she
The Treasurer of the P.C.C.
Let’s praise the cleaner of the aisles,
The nave and candlesticks and tiles.
Let’s praise the organist who tries
To make the choir increase in size,
Or if that simply cannot be,
Just to improve its quality.
Let’s praise the ringers in the tower
Who come to ring in cold and shower.
But most of all let’s praise the few
Who are seen in their accustomed pew
Throughout the year, whate’er the weather,
That they may worship God together.
These, like a fire of glowing coals,
Strike warmth into each other’s souls,
And though they be but two or three
They keep the church for you and me.

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