The Significance of Letters
A sermon delivered in the Charterhouse, Sutton’s Hospital Chapel, London at the 10am Service on Sunday 6th September 2020
The Rev’d Peter Watkins
The Rev’d Peter Watkins was Vicar of St Matthew’s, Ealing Common until his retirement. He is a residential Brother at the 16th century Charterhouse, Charterhouse Square, London. Educated at Charterhouse School, Peter served in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment in Korea and subsequently read Theology at Oxford. A curacy in St James’s Piccadilly was followed by an associate-ship at another St James’s, in Birmingham, Michigan, USA. He is author of thirteen booksincluding ‘The Soul of Wit’ about the oddities of the Church of England. He has also been a contributor to the Church Times and for five years wrote their annual Lenten reflections.
I started to write letters when, at eight years old, I went to my preparatory boarding school. I went on writing them when I was away from home and far away, abroad, and when, in various ways, they became part of my parochial ministry. Each Week I write them, still in an age when there are other forms of communication because in them things can be said that no other genre can say sincerely, faithfully, truly, gratefully, with love, with lots of love, with a kiss and lots of kisses. They can be a joy to send and a joy to get.
Anthony Trollope thought that a pleasant letter was the most pleasant thing that this world has to give. Francis Bacon wrote: “Letters, and such as written from wise men, are of all the words of man, in my judgement, the best.”
Some years ago, a lament was penned by Antonia Laird. It has the merit of being simple and clean and it made a point that I want to make.
‘In years to come, there’ll be no letters, yellowed at the edge, to save for generations yet unborn. There’ll be no diaries left for them to see, how great grandfather spent his day, or worked his way on freight ships across the seas. No love notes hidden in a secret drawer, tied with a faded ribbon to read again once more. The telephone is close at hand and we no longer understand the pen. How deep the loss of all those yesterdays with joy or sorrow, if they are all forgotten by tomorrow.’