In 1996 Tyndale's anniversary on 6th October coincided with the bi-annual ‘Spirit of Youth’ event for 500 teenagers at Wells Cathedral. My agenda was to see if youngsters today could really be interested in a man who was culturally and historically miles apart from them. There was little problem; a man of his stature can touch the hearts of all. Tyndale wanted the ploughboy of his day to turn to the Gospel; the weekend was an exercise to see if the ‘checkout girl’ of today might be encouraged to do the same.
The youngsters camped in a huge field behind the Cathedral and the moated Bishop's Palace. In the centre was a marquee of circus tent proportions from which loud music penetrated every corner of the city of Wells. Throughout the weekend there were Tyndale-related events.
The Saturday was taken up with workshops. Pairs of old jeans were collected, crushed into pulp and a group spent the whole day making paper (with a pleasant blue tinge) on which they hand printed a passage from Tyndale (John 12). I worried that the youngsters involved would get fed up and want to go canoeing on the moat or whatever, but no; they stuck at it. Another workshop learned how to approach Medieval calligraphy. Patricia Humphries, the Cathedral librarian, took small groups around an exhibition of early books in the Cathedral library. We saw the signature of Erasmus and a book he had owned and in which he had extensively added notes in the margin. The early printed Bibles and prayer books interested even the youngest teenagers; when one is immersed in one's subject enthusiasm is infectious. This was a real highlight of the weekend. There was a computer workshop which attracted many. With half a dozen CD Roms from Lion Publishing a Tyndale trail was set for the youngsters to follow. They followed the clues easily, being more interested in being able to manipulate the computers rather than to read in depth about the man.
The main event of the weekend took place on the Saturday night In the marquee there was a concert and service. This ended with a short drama set in Vilvoorde Castle the night before Tyndale was executed. I had written an imaginary dialogue between the Captain of the Guard and Tyndale. The marquee went silent and the youngsters listened ... it was a relief. I had managed to persuade the actor Geoffrey Collins who often works for BBC radio and television to play the part of Tyndale. He insisted on absolutely authentic distressed costumes and days of rehearsal. It was quite an ordeal for me to play the part of the Captain of the Guard. I shall be very wary of trying to work with a real professional actor again ... they rightly expect absolute perfection! Bishop Jim Thompson then spoke and a torchlight procession wound its way out of the marquee, past the moat and into the Cathedral ... symbolizing the spread of the Gospel in English after Tyndale's death. On entering the Cathedral each youngster was given a copy of the Bible Society's Contemporary English Version of John's Gospel with a special ‘Spirit of Youth’ cover printed with the theme words ‘Get a Life’. A thousand candles were lit, representing the spread of enlightenment which followed the Gospel's acceptance in English. I had desperately wanted to have a set of colour slides taken from the film God's Outlaw. Visually this film was a triumph, but too long to show to such a large body of teenagers. Such a set of slides would be invaluable for members of the Society wanting to give a talk. There could be additional slides of actual texts and places. I strongly believe that illustrated slide lectures are better than the most professionally produced videos which people tend to watch so passively.
I would like to think that each and every youngster who spent the weekend at Wells enjoyed themselves enormously, but also had time for quiet prayer and time to reflect upon the faith and achievement of an extraordinary man who died over 400 years ago.
© David Ireson