10th of October
Paulinus (AD 563-644) came from Italy to England in about AD 601 at the bidding of Pope Gregory the Great in Rome to assist the missionary work of St Augustine to convert the Anglo Saxons and some pagan groups to Christianity. He and other fellow monks were by all accounts very successful in doing so, especially in the north of England. He was also the first Christian missionary appointed to what was then the kingdom of Northumbria. He was described as a “tall man with a slight stoop, who had black hair, a thin face and a narrow aquiline nose, his presence being venerable and awe-inspiring”.
Well, today, we are invited to remember the ministry of St Paulinus who later became the first Archbishop of York.
When I read about St Paulinus I tend to think of him not just as a devout and hard-working Christian missionary who did his best to point people to God but also as a person who valued and adopted story-telling as a mission tool. For example, at one famous meeting, probably in Yorkshire, with high ranking ‘thegns’ (lords who held land from the then king in return for military service in time of war), Paulinus or one of his followers, who also valued story-telling, explained the advantages of embracing Christianity by saying:
“This is how the present life of man on Earth appears to me in comparison with that time which is unknown to us. You are sitting feasting with your fellow thegns in winter time. The fire is burning on the hearth in the middle of the hall and all is warm, while outside the wintry storms of rain and snow are raging – and a sparrow flies swiftly through the hall. It enters in at one door and quickly flies out through the other. For a few moments it is inside, the storm and wintry tempest cannot touch it, but after the briefest moment of calm, it flits from your sight, out of the wintry storm and into it again. So this life of man appears but for a moment. What follows or, indeed, what went before, we know not at all”.
The thegns, then having interpreted the story and having been offered the hope of life after death, realising that their own religion wasn’t working, were won over by Paulinus and his followers. The King’s high priest then rode out and ordered their ‘pagan’ temple to be demolished. Edwin, the King, was then himself baptised at York on Easter Day AD 627 along with his two sons.
In our modern world we may neglect or fail to fully appreciate the importance and power of story-telling and how it can work help transform people’s lives. I remember from my own childhood how my parents, family and friends used to gather round a blazing fire at home with a few drinks and nibbles and share stories about life in general and many of those stories, even humorous ones, provided much food for thought.
Jesus himself used story-telling as a mission tool when he went out to towns and villages meeting with people. When people approached him and asked for help, he said, ‘How can I help you?’ They told him their stories and problems and difficulties. Jesus listened and then he told them a story (a parable) designed to help people reflect in personal ways about their own life situation. Then, before taking his leave, Jesus pointed them to God. I am sure Paulinus himself was well aware of the power of using parables as a mission and evangelising tool and he used that wisely and appropriately to good effect.
Perhaps, when things are more settled, our churches and community groups should think about offering story-telling evenings for the benefit of all and for the life of the Church. I am sure many of us of riper years have many stories to tell that can help and direct people in good ways and to God.
‘Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant Paulinus, whom you called to preach the Gospel to the people of northern England. Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Saviour Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever’.