St Dunstan’s

Monks Risborough, Buckinghamshire, England

St Dunstan's James Tomkins 2

James’ Message

Dear Friends,

Some of you may be familiar with the life of Francis of Assisi who lived 800 years ago. He was well known for his love of parties and celebrations and spent part of his early years in the army. After a long period of illness, he began to grow weary of his lifestyle, and, after a trip to Rome, he returned to Assisi, resigned from his father's business and left his old friends behind. He began dedicating his life to rebuilding the Church and soon people began to follow Francis for his simple living and charity, rather than his extreme behaviour and partying. The people who followed him became known as Franciscans and this monastic order received the full approval of the Pope in 1223.

Francis is known as a gentle and generous man who radically altered his life in response to God. His life of humility and action has led him to be remembered as one of the most influential men of medieval times. His saints' day is October 4th. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church though, the Church of England has no official machinery whereby exceptionally holy people are canonised. The Church of England, therefore, both celebrates the lives of the saints before the Reformation, such as St. Francis, and commemorates the lives of exemplary Christians of comparatively modern times. These include the prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry, who died in 1845, and the nurse Edith Cavell who was executed in the First World War in 1915. Their commemorations both fall on October 12th.

Edith Cavell was born in Norfolk in 1865 and trained as a nurse, becoming matron of a large training centre for nurses in Brussels. She was working there when World War One broke out and Belgian neutrality was violated by Germany. Belgium found itself in a war zone and the Brussels nursing school became a Red Cross hospital. Edith refused the opportunity of returning home to England and was much involved in tending wounded soldiers from both the German and allied armies.

This even handed approach to the wounded became more difficult after the German occupation of Brussels in 1915, as did Edith's clandestine work of assisting in the process of smuggling British soldiers across the border from Belgium into the Netherlands. In August 1915, Edith was arrested. Several weeks later she was tricked into making a confession that resulted in her being executed by a German firing squad. It was not in Cavell's nature to be an onlooker to human suffering. Her courage and compassion led her to uphold the goals of nursing to safeguard life, attend the sick and wounded, and alleviate suffering, for which she paid the ultimate price.

Whilst few, or any of us, will become as widely known as the saints mentioned above, all of us in our own way can lead lives that will inspire and encourage others with whom we live and work, as well as those who will come after us. As we come to the annual time of remembrance of both of our own loved ones and of those who have died in the service of their country, it's good to reflect upon the qualities for which we would like to be remembered. We have the examples of Christian saints and those who may not have had an explicit faith at all, to which we can add our contributions. This leads us to recognise that each of us, regardless of our status, wealth, background or role, can still be a positive influence in the world.

With all good wishes,