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All Souls

This phrase stirs within me two very different, but equally clear memories.

The first is a scene from the novel Far From The Madding Crowd, one of the set works for our 'O'-level English literature syllabus.  Early in the story a mix up occurs when Fanny Robin is due to marry Sergeant Troy, but due to a mix up goes to the wrong church, one being All Saints and the other All Souls.  Hardy's character names in this novel are carefully chosen - here is nominative determinism at its best.  But what strikes me, and to a degree resonates, is the confusion of 'all saints' with 'all souls', because I'm not sure I know the difference, unless I take the premise that 'saints' are officially recognised by the Church, and 'souls' are 'just' ordinary people.

The second is that All Souls, as in the church at Langham Place, London, was one of the churches where I worshipped as a student.  I enjoyed the buzz of a huge congregation and what was, then, high tech and creative use of images and music.  I valued the skills of the All Souls orchestra.  I loved listening to John Stott, one of the finest expository preachers of our time.  There was a gentle, and lovely Jewish convert priest (vicar) whose face I recall but whose name escapes me (and google fails me!).  I enjoyed Michael Baughn, Richard Bewes and even, most of the time, Roger Simpson and his successor Andrew Cornes.  That thirty years on I recall (most of) their names must have some significance.  That odds and ends of sermons stick in my mind, that songs/hymns take me back to that place, to the balmy summer evenings when the wail of sirens cut the stillness...  And I also recall the, then, small Baptist congregation of which I was also part. The huges echoing, damp, cold, smelly building where the faithful few gathered week by week.  The minister Edwin Robertson (former nuclear physicist and respected Bonhoeffer scholar) who, with his wife, Ena, invited the students (all three of us) to their tiny manse flat for tea... and I can still taste the cream chesse and pineapple sandwiches on thin white bread with the crusts removed!

Time moves on, these are old memories of times and places past, of 'saints in the making', of people now dead, of people who have moved from my 'world'.  All souls - they are, all of them, souls.  And today I am glad to have known them, to have been shaped by them, to have recalled them.

Eternal God,

Thank you for creating each of us in your image and with our own spark of eternity, the imperishable soul.

Thank you for these souls I have recalled, and for those I have forgotten, each showing me a glimpse of you.



  • I love All Saints Day, but I love All Souls even more, for the reasons you give.

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