Virginia Water, Parish Boundary
A 6 hour (includes picnic), 12 mile Route
ROGATION SUNDAY // BEATING THE BOUNDS
Hundreds of years ago the church had a festival called 'Rogation Sunday'. It was a day when the priest, in his robes, accompanied by all the villagers, went around the boundaries of each parish. Later this procession became known as the parish 'perambulation', or 'beating the bounds'. In the 19th century, even in many large towns, the vicar, the mayor, the people - and crowds of children - would tramp around the exact boundary line of their village or town. If there was a hedge in the way of the line - they broke it down. If a house was built across the boundary line - then a window was broken and the mayor's mace passed through. If the boundary ran along the middle of a river, then the vicar and mayor would be put in a boat and would row along it. Often, at various points, boys would be 'bumped' (so that "they would well remember the bounds of the parish within which they dwell"). What on earth was all this in aid of?
The whole idea began well before Christianity. The Romans had a festival called the 'robigalia' in which the people went through their fields and prayed to the gods to protect their crops. They especially prayed to the god known as 'Terminus' - the god of fields and boundaries. When Christianity became the religion of Europe the festival continued, although Jesus now was the focus of prayers. A cross was carried around the boundary line, at various points the Bible was read or prayers said (the place where this was done was often called 'Gospel Oak/Thorn' or 'Amen Corner' - is there anywhere near you with a name like this?). The purpose, though, was the same as in Roman times - to ask God's blessing on the crops and to check that no-one had trespassed in any way across the border of each parish. In some places, mainly in country parishes, this procession still exists.
Yes, we all need boundaries... and yet are they always a good thing? When Jesus was alive there was a rigid boundary between Jews and Samaritans (who were Jews who thought that sacrifices could be made to God in places other than the temple at Jerusalem); even when they lived next to each other they would not have anything to do with each other. Once Jesus was sitting by a Samaritan well. He was thirsty. A Samaritan woman came up to draw water.
JESUS: Could I have a drink of water please?
WOMAN: What! Are you talking to me? Jews never talk to Samaritans - let alone share a cup with them!
JESUS: I'd still like a drink of water. Anyway, if you knew who I was, then you'd be asking me for a drink. I can give you 'living water' - water that satisfies the spirit, not just the body! And a time is coming soon when Samaritans and Jews won't argue about which mountain to worship God on - everyone, whoever they are, will worship God in their hearts.
Jesus doesn't seem to have been too impressed by the boundary between Jews and Samaritans! In fact, it turns out that the Samaritans were more interested in what Jesus had to say than people in his own home-town were.
The area of the world we live in is very rich. Many people want to come and live here - some are driven by danger in their own country - some are driven by poverty. There are lots of newspaper reports of crowds of people trying to cling on to the trains that pass through the Channel tunnel from France to England. Other people try to hide in lorries. There have been several cases of such people smothering to death, trapped inside closed lorries. And it's not just people trying to get into Britain. In southern Europe people try to sneak across the Mediterranean - some using home-made rafts. Many have drowned - their bodies washed onto tourist beaches.
Many in Britain and Europe are angry with these people: how dare they try to come here and take our jobs. What do you think? We all need boundaries - inside which we feel safe and can get on with living happy lives - but what about the people shut outside, often frightened and hungry? What do you think Jesus would have said?
Thank you, Father, for our homes and our families.
Thank you for a place where we can feel safe.
Thank you for all the things we own which make our life comfortable.
We ask that you will help those people who feel locked out from
a place where they can feel safe and where they can live in comfort.
May our country play its part in helping people who are outside
the borders of safety and comfort which we take for granted.
Beating the Bounds, May 1st or more usually after Rogation Sunday. A custom dating from the 5th century when parishioners asked for God's blessing to protect their crops. During the Reformation walking the parish boundary became a more important part of the ceremony as it provided the community with a mental map which could be drawn on in disputes over boundaries. Celebrated with Ganging Beer and Rammalation biscuits.
This Sunday was originally so called because of the words in the Prayer Book gospel for the day: "Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give to you". (The Latin is 'Rogare' - to ask.) In the strictly biblical context, the chief thing to ask for is the spirit of God to enable us to be true children of God.
By the 17th century, the old Roman festival of 'Terminalia", or "boundaries", had been adapted by the church and served a practical purpose. In days before Ordnance Survey maps, there were not always clear lines of demarcation between the parishes, especially where there were open field systems. During the procession, boys were bumped on prominent marks and boundary stones, or rolled in briars and ditches, or thrown in the pond to ensure they never forgot the boundaries. The Victorians made it more civilised by beating objects rather than people, in the context of a service and procession.
In the Western Church, processions to bless the crops and to include "beating the bounds", developed from the o1d Roman rites of "Robigalia" ("robigo": Latin for "rust" or "mould"), when prayers would be offered to the deity for crops to be spared from mildew.
These rogation themes of blessing the fields and beating the bounds were commended in the 1630s by the poet George Herbert, that epitome of English country parsons. He said that processions should be encouraged for four reasons:
1 .A Blessing of God for the fruits of the field.
2.Justice in the preservation of bounds.
3.Charity in loving, walking and neighbourly accompanying one another with reconciling of differences at the time if there be any.
4.Mercie, in relieving the poor by a liberal distribution of largesse, which at the time is or ought to be used.
Today the emphasis has shifted. A blessing on growing crops in fields and gardens, and on young lambs and calves remain. In the agricultural cycle, the main themes are seed sowing and the tending of the young plants and animals. This does not pre-suppose that all sowing takes place around Rogation. Sowing is done all the year round, as is the birth and rearing of the young, but it is convenient to fix on one particular festival as the time to remember these before God in a public way.
Rogation takes place in the springtime, when there is a renewing of the earth. In this country, it follows Easter, the season of resurrection. Renewal and resurrection therefore are also underlying themes of this occasion.
Contemporary concerns will include:-
1.The enjoyment by all of, and access to, the countryside.
2.Conservation of species not directly offering economic profit to the owner or occupier of the land where they flourish.
3.The ecological insight of the inter-relatedness of the created order.
4.Reflection upon human-kind's relationship to the natural order. What does it mean to "have dominion" under God over the fish in the sea, the birds of the air, the cattle, the wild animals, and the reptiles, the plants bearing seed, the trees bearing fruit, the green plants? Are the words 'stewards' or 'managers' appropriate to describe this role?
5.The relief of the poor. Rogation Sunday often precedes Christian Aid week.
The Christian 'virtues associated with Rogation are hope and justice - and as George Herbert reminds us - there is always room for charity.