As a unionist, I know that 1st May is of course May Day; but it is also the feast of St. Philip and St. James. I’m not sure what I think about saints’ days. All believers are saints, it seems to me. But a ‘patronal festival’ is an opportunity to celebrate our local church family.
So I’ve done some research on St. Philip; there’s not much known about him. There were two James among Jesus’ twelve disciples. James ‘the Greater’ is described as a son of Zebedee and Salome (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; 16:1) and brother of the apostle John. He is called ‘the Greater’ to distinguish him from apostle James ‘the less,’ who may have been shorter or younger. It is St. James the Less who is celebrated with St. Philip on May 1st. (One tradition has it that the two are buried side by side in Rome; hence the celebration on the same day.)
And that brings me almost to the nub of my story. I received my primary (elementary) education from my father, John, who was then a young school teacher working in small rural schools in the Western District of Victoria. From 1957 to 1959 he was the only teacher at Pomborneit North, a tiny hamlet on the Princes Highway between Colac and Camperdown. (This is the house we lived in, next to the school. The school building has been moved away, but the house is still there. Drystone walls are very characteristic of the locality.)
On Sundays I attended the St. James the Less Church of England Sunday School, Pomborneit North. The Superintendent was Marguerite McGarvie, who still lives locally. The Sunday school closed 25 years ago for want of pupils. There are still services at the church twice a month, though Marguerite tells me the congregation is just a handful of people. It was a traditional style of Sunday school and quite small, perhaps 10 children? I can’t recall exactly. We older children (I was nine when I started there) learnt the Book of Common Prayer Catechism by heart, including the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Apostle’s Creed. Each time someone asks me my name, the response from the Catechism still comes straight to mind:
Question: What is your Name?
Question. Who gave you this name?
Answer. My godfathers and godmothers in my baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.
During my first year there I was awarded a prize, a small copy of the Book of Common Prayer (1662). The book has long since fallen apart and the print was very small, but I cut out the inscription and stuck it into a new copy (which also has large print!). (In 1993 I saw this painting, The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt, in the North Transcept of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London).