… And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green;
they were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one too.
So goes a popular hymn, but look in the Calendar of Saints, say the one in the BAS. There is indeed a queen—Margaret of Scotland—but I’m not sure about the shepherdess. (There is a shepherd in the BCP Calendar, but he’s remembered as a poet.) In fact—apart from New Testament figures and the martyrs—most of the names are of clergy and religious (that is friars, monks, or nuns. The others are royalty, and (unless I’ve missed someone) five persons: St Augustine’s mother Monnica, Julian of Norwich, Mollie Brant, William Wilberforce, and Florence Nightingale.
….You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store,
in church, by the sea, in the house next door;
they are saints of God, whether rich or poor,
and I mean to be one too.
Quite right, but the Calendar hardly gives you any examples of men and women, not ordained, with no vows beyond the promises of Baptism, who spent their lives as faithful Christians, and can be practical models living out those promises in the midst of the world.
Such people are commonly known only to God, and to a few people whose lives they touched. We remember them on All Saints’ Day. But there are some whose lives or writings we have, through which some of the light of Christ still shines.
In one copy of the BAS calendar I have noted on or near the day of their deaths (or heavenly birthdays, as the early Christians said of the martyrs) the names of two persons who seem to me to be models of Christian laity. As time goes on I hope to find more.
One, whose faith I may write about another day, is Dr Samuel Johnson, the great lexicographer, who died on 13 December 1784. 13 December is a nice free day in the Calendar.
The other man died in 1706 on the day we remember that holy priest George Herbert, so in my personal calendar he is commemorated today, 28 February. His name was John Evelyn, and is best remembered for his diary, which is less famous than that of his contemporary, Pepys.
G. W,. E. Russell, in his ‘Prefatory Note’ to the Everyman edition of Evelyn’s Diary (1907), suggests why we might take Evelyn as a good model for Layfolk:
“But here we must turn to the second part of the text I tool from Mr Shorthouse —‘Spiritual life and growth [were] not exclusively the possession of Puritans and Ascetics.’ We have seen that John Evelyn was no ascetic, as regards the legitimate pleasures of human life. He was as far removed from the temper of Puritanism as from the licentiousness which is sometimes supposed to be its only alternative. Yet not Baxter or Calamy, or the best Puritan of them all, was more consistently and conspicuously a Christian in faith, speech, and act.
“From first to last Evelyn was a loyal and zealous son of the English Church, ‘as it stands distinguished from all Papal and Puritan innovations, and as it adheres to the doctrine of the Cross.” The phrase is that of Bishop Ken, whose preaching Evelyn greatly admires, but it expresses his own feeling with singular exactness.”
Evelyn’s Diary records the life of a committed and devout layman who lived through the darkest time that has yet come upon the Anglican Church, when under the government of Cromwell, the Prayer Book and the orders of the Church were abolished. Clergy who remained loyal were put out of their parishes or livings (sequestered). To worship and received the sacraments according to the Prayer Book Evelyn often had to arrange to have a sequestered priest celebrate in private. Evelyn notes on 23 May 1658:
“There was now a collection for the persecuted and sequestered Ministers of the Church of England, whereof divers are in prison. A sad day! The Church now in dens and caves of the earth.”
In his Diary we also find the famous record of Christmas 1657, when though the feast had been abolished by proclamation as ‘superstitious’, Evelyn and others celebrated it in Exeter Chapel, London. A troop of soldiers surrounded the chapel and arrested the worshippers. Evelyn reports that
“As we went up to receive the Sacrament, the miscreants held their muskets against us, as they would have shot us at the altar; but yet suffering us to finish the office of Communion, as perhaps not having instructions what to do, in case they found us in that action.”
Delightfully, at least to this student of Church history, Evelyn seems to have made a note of every sermon he ever heard, with the text the preacher expounded!
More can be found of Evelyn the man and his faith in the Diary, a book that deserves a place in any Anglican’s library, and whose memory should be recalled with thanksgiving to God, perhaps even today,
The 'Commemoration of John Evelyn, Layman, 2011’