From The Rev’d Gareth Miller – April 2020

Brian Wood

The Rev’d Gareth Miller

Dear parishioners;

I vividly recall studying at primary school the story of the village of Eyam in Derbyshire during the plague year of 1665.   If I were to go up in the loft I could probably find the exercise book with my drawings and written account of it.

As the disease spread, the villagers turned for leadership to their rector, The Reverend William Mompesson. He, together with the Puritan minister, Thomas Stanley, introduced a number of precautions to slow the spread of the illness, the best-known of which was to quarantine the entire village.

Later, when I was studying French for A level, one of our set texts was La Peste by Albert Camus. It’s set in 194., in the town of Oran, in French Algeria, and catalogues in poignant and dramatic detail the agonies of the townsfolk and the moral dilemmas facing the principal protagonists as they cope with a 20th century plague.

As I write, in mid-March, it is not clear how the coronavirus will develop, but it seems inevitable that it will become widespread over the coming weeks and months. I guess I will not have to make the kind of choices faced by Mompesson, not least because decisions to regulate our behaviour will be taken by the government. Nor will I be tempted to behave like Père Paneloux in La Peste, who suggested to his congregation that the plague was a divine visitation, a punishment for their sins (though he later shifted his position when confronted with the death of a child). There will, however, be hard decisions facing us all.

We live in a universe of opposing forces. Nature, as Darwin discovered, has a way of ensuring the survival of the fittest.  Sentient humans, on the other hand, have the capacity for moral choice, which is often complex and confusing, and is a faculty we must exercise with thoughtfulness and care. Sometimes, sadly, we make selfish choices, and we have already witnessed disturbing behaviour on the part of some. The instinct that urges us to work for the common good rather than our individual interests is, I hope, stronger.   Rabbi Lord Sacks, in a powerful contribution to Radio 4’s Start the Week (11 March) highlighted moral character as an attribute we have rather lost sight of, but perhaps we will find the grace to rediscover it in the days to come.

However things develop in the weeks and months ahead, I pray that all of us in these villages will exemplify the best and noblest aspects of our character – respect, tolerance, generosity and mutual care.

Your sincere friend and Rector,

01869 350224