wordsout by godfrey rust
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Strawberry Lodge

for the re-opening of Carshalton Baptist Church in Strawberry Lodge in April 1996 after its restoration

Josias Dewye,
Clothworker and Citizen of London,
lived by blowing people up.
Not directly, of course (he was a gentleman)
     but he supplied
Cromwell with England’s finest gunpowder
and so became a Guy Fawkes in reverse—
the only man to put an English Parliament
into power with high explosives.

Whether he saw Cromwell
as a just leader, or just a good customer
is not recorded. Dewye weighed out
gunpowder, not principles, and was
too shrewd to bite the hand that fed him.
When the Commonwealth failed, he feared
how Charles the Second might repay
the damage that his products had done
to thousands of his father’s loyal subjects—
but Dewye’s skills were marketable.
A stickler for production standards
(his victims enjoyed a high quality of death)
he kept his head while all Roundheads
were losing theirs, for Kings need ordnance too.
Dewye was brought to Royalist Carshalton,
revived the powder mills along the Wandle,
took on the Manor House, and made another
Late in life he built Strawberry Lodge,
but not to live in. Houses are made
for profit or from profit, and this one was both.
He rented it out, made sure his tenants
paid his local taxes, and in old age saw
his daughter married into local gentry,
was honoured Master of his Guild, and died.
What has this to do with us, except to note
that Dewye was a man who took
his opportunities as we do? Arms dealer,
property developer, skilled at tax avoidance,
he’d be at home today. He was not at heart
religious, and this Lodge was never built
to be a holy house; yet it is one now.
Christ’s kingdom doesn’t grow
like some rare flower in a peaceful sanctuary 
but in the everyday loud, untidy world
of politics and commerce,
where no money is completely clean
and no motive wholly pure.  God can take
the best and worst of us and by all means
make something holy, just as this house
has been rebuilt with money earned
in ordinary ways and given for many reasons.
It is a place fit for injured souls and bodies,
in daily civil and uncivil wars. When
we are maimed by loss, or wounded
with indifference or greed, or when
the unstable powder of our pride
blows up in our own faces, we can come here
to learn how life and history can be remade.
After three hundred years the Lodge
stands firm on Dewye’s flint foundations,
a parable of Christ’s way to build up
his house of living stones—stripped down, not
but patiently restored to its original design
which centuries of weather and our later
clumsy added-on improvements compromised.
It tells us what we are
is built upon our past, and shows
how something built for profit can be used
for worship, can be transformed into
a property of God’s kingdom—and if you think
for you this would take a miracle
then that’s his business. It’s another joke
in Heaven’s upside-down economy
that the gunpowder-maker’s final legacy
should be a means of life, not death.
Look round at these solid, beautiful
but guilty walls, redeemed for Christ’s service,
and recognise yourself.
You can feel at home here.

Godfrey Rust 1996, godfrey@wordsout.co.uk. See here for permissions.