From Ch12: Preparation and Departure.
Next, Hereford held up the staff.
‘Behold, Brethren, the sceptre of thine office, even as Moses and the prophets bore. ‘Twill also aid thee in the weariness of thy roilings¹.’
‘‘Twill also aid thee to scratch the fleas on thy back, Father William,’ whispered Tom disrespectfully to his fellow-evangelist.
William choked and whispered back, ‘Or mayhap as a rod for thine own, young scapegrace.’
Tom chuckled quietly. He had long discovered William’s dry sense of humour, and had thoroughly enjoyed their preaching tours of the local villages together, especially the miraculous visit to Coventry. This mission was simply doing the same, but on a much larger scale. He couldn’t wait to start.
Leather footwear was provided, but William and Tom quietly decided to stow them in their packs for the coldest weather. They had found that going barefoot among the poor folk built a greater rapport with them. On more than one occasion they had given their footwear away to the most desperate.
‘Desperate indeed were they,’ observed Tom, ‘that they would bear the odour therof.’
‘Thine be the odour!’ replied William caustically. ‘Mine be washed and clean.’
‘Soothly said, O Father William of the holy foot. But mine labour more sorely.’
‘Verily! But if they run not swiftly, my staff shall be as a rod for thy back, my lad.’ laughed William.
In spite of their playful camaraderie, Tom had a profound respect and affection for his friend and mentor, and thought twice before challenging his wisdom.
Although it was tacitly agreed that William would have the final say in their decision-making, William had the wisdom and humility to recognise the gifts, steadfastness, boldness and understanding in his young friend, and to listen to his opinions. This made them a powerful combination indeed.
Finally, Hereford pulled forth a beautiful hand-drawn map of England, a rare treasure in those days.
‘Brethren, we are commanded to send forth the gospel north, south, east and west. Have ye all settled in thine hearts whither ye be sent?’
Each mission had prayed earnestly for direction, and they had decided it in this wise:
Father Simon Cole, Master Peter Hallworthy and Father Edward Smithdon would travel north to Lincolnshire. Peter Hallworthy knew it well.
Father John Haswell was a Norfolkshire man, so he and Master Lawrence Parsons would journey east.
Father Richard Brandon and Master Harold Ravenswood would journey to the Suffolk region.
Benjamin Abyngdon and William Thorpe had elected to journey southeast to Essex.
Father William Shephard had felt drawn toward Cornwall ever since the prioress had given him the invitation to St Mary’s. This would mean they must travel the furthest, overwintering on the way. Yet more than that consideration drew him westward. He had a strange sense of destiny both in Glastonbury in Somerset, and at St Mary’s itself in Cornwall.
As for Tom, he would follow anywhere William wanted to go, as long as the harvest of souls was plentiful and ready.
The prioress was delighted to hear of their decision.
‘I will not hold thee to thy word, Father William,’ she assured him, ‘for but by the grace of God do we make our plans. But I must away regardless and return to my folk at St Mary’s, for I have tarried overlong in the glory of this thy commissioning. I will speak to my friends in the way, that they look to thy needs should they find thee near. God speed thy mission, brethren all, and the prayers of all our folk go with thee.’
William and Thomas could not speak, so they bowed in deep respect to express their gratitude. The prioress understood.
Would they make it all the way to Cornwall? Only God knew.
The next day, the prioress and her companion left as swiftly as they had come. She was a woman of boundless energy, and was often on the road, guarded by her grizzled and faithful Cornish henchman, Jory, and his men.
So it was, very early on the first day of May, at Wycliffe’s church at Lutterworth, the leaders and the remaining Culdees gathered around the evangelists and prayed with them, wishing them God-speed.
Wycliffe and Hereford presented them with as many copies of the portions of scripture in English that they could spare, or were complete. Hand copying was a long and tedious labour, had it not also been a means of memorizing God’s Word.
Goodbyes, benedictions and bear hugs were exchanged amongst all the comrades, together with some light banter, in the typical English manner on such important occasions.
‘Salve, clerici vagantes²!’ said the lively young Benjamin to Tom as he wrung his hand. ‘Alas, that thou dost forsake the minstrel troupe -- the Lullards of Logic Lane.’
‘Nay! Altiora peto -- I seek higher things, O fellow priest-errant.’ responded Tom, revealing his progress in the Latin tongue. ‘Thou hast the august William Thorpe to keep thy wayward foot upon the straight way, and I have the good Saint William to guard my waywardness.’
Wycliffe stood before them and quoted the final words of the Great Commission of Christ from his and Purvey’s translation, followed by his benediction.
‘The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with ye.
‘Brethren! Go ye forth!’
They all responded with a fervent ‘Amen!’ and then quietly departed into the thin morning mist, parting at the crossroads that went north, south and east, each mission to their own destiny -- to shake the nation of England.