Skip to comments.Greed and Grape Nuts
Posted on 12/09/2013 7:14:37 PM PST by markomalley
In the parish where I was an Anglican vicar there remained in the collective memory of the village a memorable predecessor named The Revd Christian William Hampton-Weekes. Hampy as he was called, was born in 1880. He was Vicar of Brading from 1934 to his death in 1948.
Hampy was a bachelor and lived in the five bedroomed Victorian vicarage house set in about five acres of garden. He was from a wealthy family and employed a housekeeper, cook, gardener and chauffeur-handyman. His successor was Revd Ted Robertswho went on to become the Bishop of Ely. Ted had retired to Brading during my time and told me that when he took over from Hampy and moved into the vicarage with his wife and five children and expected the parish to pay for new church doors they were shocked. Hampy had paid for everything.
The old timers in the village used to tell how Hampy would go visiting the poor of the parish in his Rolls Royce driven by the chauffeur. If he was going out to the outlying village of Alverstone hed stop by their house and pick up the kids to go out and visit their grandma who lived on one of the farms nearby. Hampy would always have a bag of sweets for us, and wed ride out to Grandmas then hed pick us up for the return journey.
I got to thinking about Hampy today while discussing poverty with a friend. I wonder if all this about poverty is really about poverty or simplicity of life. One can be awfully self conscious about this poverty thing. I knew a Franciscan once whose brown habit was perfectly tailored. Then there was the Franciscan bishop I knew who had his cowl lined with purple silk. The poverty thing can be a bit ostentatious can it not?
Lets go back to Hampy. Of course I never knew the man, but I knew English aristocrats like him. They were some of the most genuine, generous and humble people Ive ever met. They may have been rich, but they were poor in spirit. If Hampy was like the ones Ive known he would have kept the Rolls Royce because it had been handed down to him by his uncle and it would seem mean spirited to look a gift horse in the mouth. Also, if he didnt have the Rolls he wouldnt be able to offer young Watkins a job as chauffeur, and he knew perhaps that Watkins was a bit of a dimwit who couldnt get another job anyhow and had a widowed mother to support. Hampy would have considered a bright new car to be far more ostentatious than the reliable old Rolls.
Did he have a cook and a housekeeper and a gardener? Well, cook always catered for the parish events and housekeeper helped to clean the church. Gardener was also the grave digger and kept the churchyard grass mown and grew all the altar flowers. There was a good use for them all, and together they served the village community and served the church. Was the Rolls a luxury? Perhaps, but then many of the villagers didnt have cars at all, and if there was an emergency you could always call on Hampy and hed sent Watkins so the car doubled as a kind of village bus service or even an ambulance.
Was Hampy rich and flashy? Probably not. He was an old school gentleman. He lived the way he did simply because that was the way he was brought up. He had money so he used it as a good steward for the good of all.
He reminds me of G.K. Chestertons quip, There is more simplicity in a man eating caviar because he likes it than a man eating grape nuts on principle.
So it seems to me with all this talk about poverty. Isnt some of it a bit strained? Im sure it is absolutely authentic with Pope Francis, and that he lives the way he does because he really wants to, but I can think of a good number of ordinary folks who neither make much money nor very little money who live simple lives without ostentation either with flashy materialism or flashy poverty.
To my mind the question is not poverty or riches, but Benedictine detachment. If you have nice things how much do you love them? If someone admired what you have would you say, Here it is. I want you to have it! Would you gladly give away all that you have and live a life of poverty and simplicity if you needed to? Are you attached to your material things?
The poet Thomas Traherne wrote, Can a man be just unless he loves all things according to their worth? This is the true spirit of detachment. To love all things according to their worth. What is a thing really for? What is its true value? We love it for that and not for the supposed status it gives us or the imagined pleasure or security. We love it for what it is and what it does and what its true purpose is.
This is the path of wisdom in all things. We ask what a thing is truly for and this helps us to love it according to its true worth.
I reckon people like Hampy have it just about right. If I am right in assessing what sort of man he was (for I have met others like him) then he understood what his wealth was for and he used it for the proper service of God and his neighbor, and by doing so taught all of us a lesson in simplicity and authenticity of discipleship.
Makes excellent sense. I’ve known a few people like that, although they are rare these days.
This was referred to in my youth as *old money* understated, genteel and unassuming. The world was really like this more often than not. I miss the America of my youth.
My brother’s father-in-law is a Church of England priest. He recently had to retire because he has cancer, and my mom wrote that “Vicar Tom” and the “Vicaress” just bought the first house they ever owned.
In his last post before his diagnosis, the diocese had to rent a modern house for them, because while each of the several parishes he was serving owned a vicarage, none was habitable!
Just a little CofE trivia ;-).