The Skaters Sermon

The Skaters Sermon given by lay preacher, Rhiny Fletcher in 1900 in the Steam Engine Primitive Methodist Church on the Hundred Foot River.

Now all of you know me when I spent my Sundays skating instead of preaching, but that was when I worked for the old Devil, But I gave him notice and now I work for another Master, though that doesn’t go to say I never go skating. What I want to tell you is this: that the first skater we read about is Job. Who was Job? Well, I’ll tell you. He was a Fenman. You want to know how I know that? It’s in the book he wrote, thousands of years ago, where he says: ‘Behemoth lieth in covert reed and fen.’

I don’t know who Behemoth was, he might have been a gamekeeper or something like that, but what I do know is, that there’s reed and there’s fen, and if Job hadn’t lived in the Fens, how would he have known about reeds and fen?

Now you want to know how I know that Job was a skater. Well, doesn’t he say: ‘By the breath of God frost is given?’ And you know, as well as I do, frost makes ice and ice makes skating. And if Job hadn’t been a skater he wouldn’t have written: ‘My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle.’ What he wanted us to know was that he skated backwards and forwards like you do today, only I’m not going to say he was like you, skating from one pub to the next along the river.

There’s something else too, to show I’m right. Look at my face; all you can see is wrinkles, and if you want to know what caused those wrinkles, it was skating into the sun with my eyes half-shut. And Job did the same. Listen: ‘And Thou has filled me with wrinkles.’ That’s good enough for me. But if you want to hear more, then he writes: ‘The face of the deep is frozen.’ What he means by that is: ‘Get out your pattens, the ice will bear you.’ And he goes on to say: ‘The waters are hid as with a stone.’ If he stood here today, instead of me, you’d hear him telling you the ice would bear a traction engine, because that’s what he meant. And I don’t mind telling you another thing, and that is, Job was quite used to seeing his early potatoes cut off by the frost. That’s what happened one morning when he went indoors and said the early spuds were finished, he meant those ‘Which are black by reason of ice’.

Another thing I can tell you is this: If Job didn’t live in the Fen, how did he know about the Denver Sluice? Yes, I thought that would make you open your eyes. Well, can anyone tell me what he meant if it wasn’t the Denver Sluice he meant when he said: ‘They have set doors and bars to keep out the sea.’ And he knew, as well as you do that doors didn’t only keep out the sea but they kept the water in the river when it was needed. Haven’t you stood on the river bank, just as a nice black frost was sealing the river in with a nice covering of ice, then, just before it was safe for skating, the men at the Sluice opened the doors and let the water run out? And when you saw the ice fall in, and go swirling down the Ten Mile, what did you say when you saw the finest bit of skating in the world spoilt? Now, don’t look so sheepish; I know what words you used, as I did the same before I gave up swearing. Now, when Job saw the same thing happen, he didn’t swear about the sluice-keeper. This is what he said: ‘This is a heinous crime, yea it is an iniquity.’ I agree with him there, and what’s more, if the sluice had been opened like that in my father’s time, they’d have murdered that keeper, and got away with it too.

There’s another thing I can tell you. Job ground his pattens himself. Now most of you have a little grindstone, haven’t you? Well, who do you get to turn it when your pattens need grinding? Your wife, don’t you? And so did Job, because that’s why he said: ‘Let the wife grind.’ And not having any gloves on, her hands got cold and when she complained to Job about her chilblains, he said the same thing that you do: ‘I wash mine in snow.’ And you all know that’s the finest cure there is.

Most of you men here – and I’ve done the same thing myself – when you go to a skating match you like to buy a ticket in the sweepstake, don’t you? Mind you, I’m not going so far as to prove it, but when he says, ‘Every man shall draw after, ’ I Take it he meant that, as he was running the sweep, he drew the first runner out of the hat and the others took their chance after. And there’s something else I can tell you. You and I have seen some funny things when we’ve been skating, haven’t we? I know I have. And when there are skaters there are laughs and a lot of sly winking going on. Now, you women, there’s no need to go red in the face; I haven’t said anything to make you do that. What I’m trying to make out to you is, that Job saw some funny things as well. Perhaps you’ll be able to tell me, was it at a skating match, or somewhere else, that Job saw something that made him say:‘ and what do my eyes wink at?’

Finally, brothers and sisters, I’ve done my best to prove to you there was ice and skaters thousands of years ago, and as I know most of you here have had other sporting times besides skating. I can tell you this: Job knew a lot more than he let out in his writings. I reckon before the night’s out, some of you will be making your way to where the long-tails sleep, to do the same that Job did: ‘And abide in the covert to lie in wait.’

Well, I don’t blame you. With this long black frost we’re having, and so many being thrown out of work, most of you are hard put to it to know here the next meal’s coming from. But I hope you won’t lie too long in the coverts or you’ll be late getting to Welney Washes tomorrow. I’ve been told, coming down here today, that there ought to be some fine skating, with plenty of good prize money. And though I’m standing in the chapel pulpit, I can tell you this: the parson at Welney, the Reverend Wilford, who’s the best skater a man could ever want to see, is going to be the judge. And now, before I close, I’d like to say that I’ve been telling you, today, what Job said. Now I’ll tell you what I think myself about you all tomorrow: Good skating. I hope you win plenty of prize money, get home before dark, and keep off the beer.

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