David Wilbourne, author of Shepherd of Another Flock, recalls a memorable Easter from his time as Vicar of Helmsley.
Eastertide is one of the best times to visit Helmsley, with the rapidly flowing brook that bisects the town festooned with daffodils, giving the whole place a sunny feel. Even the grey limestone walls of the castle, church and sundry cottages turn a cheering yellow.
The crowds of visitors return after their long winter hibernation, defrosting in the cafes and gift shops and Claridges, the friendliest and most interesting bookshop in all the world, with a personal service second to none. I used to ask Ken Claridge, the owner, what card I had bought for my wife’s previous birthday. He would remember and diplomatically spare me any embarrassing repetition: ‘We’ve got some new stock in, do you fancy one of these?’
Of my twelve Easters as Helmsley’s vicar, the one that sticks in my mind is when a chill east wind brought Arctic weather which made even the stoic daffodils shiver. As Lent began, I had planned a dawn Eucharist for Holy Monday in the ancient and holy ruins of Rievaulx Abbey. From my wintry study, I imagined a balmy spring April morning, with my congregation warmed by the rising sun, so glad they were not in Helmsley a-bed.
But as Holy Week began, I crept away from home at 6.15 am in a blizzard and cycled into a Rievaulx carpeted with snow. I opened my rucksack and took out my kit: the tiny silver chalice and dish, the picnic flasks containing water and wine, the crumpled napkins, the battered Prayer Book, the priest's wafer, already broken. I set them out on a chipped stone altar in a side chapel, covered by no crisp, white, starched linen, just a cloth of snow. By the end of communion, the warm leather of the prayer book had thawed a watery rectangle, the chalice and dish had each thawed its own circle.
Afterwards I cycled up the steepest of banks, climbed over the gate into Rievaulx Terraces and breathlessly looked down upon the abbey from my lofty perch. I could make out the footprints of my small congregation, the thawed-out green patches where they had shivered for communion, the circles and rectangle on the altar.
I love the countryside when it is covered in snow, gazing in homage at the tracks left by the invisible animals of the night. That Holy Week dawn we had left our own tracks; or had God left his?
Shepherd of Another Flock, David Wilbourne's charming, funny story of life as a Yorkshire vicar, is out now.
As the newly appointed Vicar of Helmsley, David was looking forward to working in this picturesque market town. Admittedly the vicarage, which dated back to the twelfth century, was extremely cold and damp. And not all of his parishioners were impressed by his new-fangled ways. But with the help of the irrepressible Father Bert, a retired cleric and one-time Tail End Charlie, David set about winning over the townsfolk.