The church of St. Laurence in Morland is remarkable in two ways: firstly, the building is if profound historical interest and secondly, the group of people connected with the church are without doubt as impressive as the building itself.
The stumpy tower that seems to be sinking into the grassy banks of the churchyard was build before the Norman conquest of 1066. There is no trace of an original building that may have been attached to the tower; the present building dates from the following century.
The nave, chancel and the transepts have not escaped Victorian interference; the redecoration was, however, made with taste and without an abundance of stained glass, leaving the church, whilst it is firmly enveloped by the grassy banks to the south, with a light and airy feel. The J.J. Binns organ from the 1920’s still functions, so I am told, as it did when it was built, and it has required little maintenance.
Enough of the building: it is only there, after all, to serve its congregation; and what a congregation has worshipped there over the years! I first entered the church at the age of 11 for the opening service of the 29th Morland Choristers’ Camp. The camp was founded in 1971 by the then Vicar of Morland, Canon Gervase Markham, as he was determined at the time to keep younger children, especially boys, interested in their church choir. Canon Markham sadly passed away in 2007 at the age of 97, but the camp still takes place every summer, attracting a very loyal following of around 100 children each year.
In 1999, my first camp, I was seated nervously in the church with one sole friend and dozens of strangers, when the opening sentence of my first said BCP service boomed out from the chancel: ‘O Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: let the whole earth stand in awe of him.’ (Psalm 96, vs. 9) Rain pouring down without, utter silence within, I was spellbound. Over the next years, I got to know the community of Morland church through the choristers’ camp, and visited the church with many fond memories as recently as last week, when I went to co-direct the ‘Taste of Morland’ weekend, a pre-camp singing weekend for KS2 children.
Back to the Canon: a brief summary of his life here would never do him justice. Articles such as this, from 2006, will do him much more than I ever could: http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/hometruths/gervasemarkham.shtml. A man of endless energy and enthusiasm, after his ‘retirement’ from parish ministry, he proceeded to read as many books as possible in the original language, build dry-stone walls in Morland house (he was part of a long line of Markhams, four of which were Sheriffs of Nottingham), further develop the choristers’ camp, alongside a life as a visiting preacher and canon of Carlisle Cathedral and always replying to his correspondence with a fountain pen and ink. This, after an active life as a parish priest and serving as an army chaplain during WWII. Quite an act to follow!
Remarkably, he has been followed by some most distinguished individuals: The current vicar, the Revd. Stuart Fyfe is a man of huge energy and a passionate member of the community (and a fine tenor) and the choirmaster, David Jones, is an exceptional being: he runs his own empire a mile to the south of Morland in Newby, where he runs a campsite and has a converted barn, from which he organises numerous events listed here: http://www.newbyendfarm.co.uk/activities.html. It is certainly not usual for an old farmhouse to host an arts festival, a Scottish dancing weekend, a week of folk dancing, two singing events and to be equipped with a two manual pipe organ, two harpsichords and two grand pianos.
I am utterly in awe of this parish, and long may it continue to flourish.