The parish fete takes place on the Saturday after the June bank holiday each year. The stalls include one selling second hand books donated by parishioners and neighbours.
Every evening for a week before the fete, piles of books arrive and are sorted by a small group who are quick to discard anything that will not sell. A pile of books considered unsellable stood in the corner of the room one June evening three years ago – one had been hand bound.
The book was a copy of the 1926 Book of Common Prayer – each printed page had been interleaved with a blank page and the pages had been rebound in a plain blank binding.
“Where did this come from?”
No-one knew. It had been amongst a bag of paperback novels that had been tipped out onto the table.
Many of the blank pages bore detailed notes on the facing text, written in a tiny, neat handwriting. The book had been someone’s study text and had been clearly a work of love.
Flicking to the front, a name was stamped inside the front cover.
“W.E. Milligan, Rathfriland”
Will Milligan! Will Milligan had been onetime Rector of the parish where I served my first incumbency. He had retired in 1973.
How had his prayer book arrived in Dublin? He served his whole ministry in Co Down in the North. Having arrived in Dublin, how did it find its way into a bag of paperbacks? No-one had any idea where the paperbacks had come from. Lots of stuff comes from parishioners, but lots also comes from people in the neighbourhood spring cleaning.
Each page of the book had been treasured, each page had been read and meditated upon. Certainly the book was unsellable, but to the right people it would be priceless.
Will Milligan had been called to higher duties a few years previously, in his late nineties, but by some bizarre coincidence his daughter had sent an email the previous week. It was the first contact and was about city ministry.
News of the book was a surprise, she had known about the prayer book, her mother had searched for it; they had often wondered where it had gone. It was a moment of joy to post the book to the North.
As the Church of Ireland changes and we welcome new members, we are blessed with a great new vibrancy, but amongst the new, it would be sad to lose the old. It would be sad to lose the close ties, the bonds of community and friendship that have marked our little church for so long. It would be sad if a prayer book found in unlikely circumstances, years later, in a different part of the country, did not find its way home.