Last weekend we headed to Portsmouth for a wedding.
Half my extended family live in the Portsmouth area but it takes a major event like a wedding to bring us all together; to meet and share with people I haven’t seen for years.
The wedding venue is the oldest theatre building in Portsmouth; built in 1784 by the Portsea Beneficial Society as both a theatre and one of the first, purpose built free schools in the country. Taking her vows in the theatre/meeting room, my cousin was in good company; previous visitors to events included Queen Victoria and the mother of Charles Dickens. Art and education; the highest and the lowest; benefactors and beneficiaries; all have been there.
Sandwiched between the City of Portsmouth and the nation’s premier naval dockyard; Portsea was and still is, a deprived area. The Beneficial Society had begun as a mutual self-help group, then grew to help others; one of many such societies across the land; serving their communities long before the creation of a modern ‘welfare state’. Although no longer a school, the trust that now runs the building remains committed to identifying and supporting the needs of their community.
The wedding party was a family affair: from the decoration of the venue, through the many key jobs on the day, to the shared feast. It all happened under the watchful eye of 250 years of mutual, supportive, community history. A reminder, if one were needed, of just how much we depend on each other.
The night after the wedding we were treated to a spectacular storm; noisy, bright and wet. We were glad to be back in the protection of our hotel. By morning it had moved on, the air clearer, the streets dry once more. Thinking back over our short break, I am reminded that here too is a long history of community support; more formal in some villages than others. Most of the time that support just happens, part of what we do. Occasionally, as during the Covid lockdowns, we need to be more openly intentional. Storm clouds gather once more; they will pass; meanwhile who may we help – and who helps us?
Rev’d Philip Payne
The Notice Sheet for 11th September can be found here