Buffet-style Asparagus Lunch a success

Last Wednesday, 8th May, the Warwickshire and Neighbouring Counties Monthly Meeting of Protestant Dissenting Ministers held their annual Asparagus Service and Lunch, at Oat Street Chapel in Evesham. This lunch has been held annually since the beginning of the 19th century. This year, over forty Unitarians from around the District gathered to celebrate its beginnings, and to listen to an excellent service on the theme ‘Tending space within earth’s garden’ by Rev Peter Hewis. We also enjoyed asparagus soup, an excellent buffet-style main course, and a choice between chocolate fudge cake and fruit salad for dessert, all provided by Jill Bowie.

Photo by Peter Forder

Why do we do this? To quote Maureen Butler, a member at Oat Street,

“It all began in 1782 when the dissenting ministers gathered at West Bromwich Presbyterian Old Meeting and resolved to meet monthly in order to promote and encourage ‘an earnest and active interest in all matters reflecting religious liberty… particularly in matters affecting equal rights of all denominations before the law.’

At that time, it was strictly illegal for non-conformist ministers to gather to discuss seemingly ‘heretical’ ideas but, embellished with delicious seasonal asparagus, the May meetings started to be held at Oat Street Chapel, where gathering under the guise of an asparagus lunch provided the perfect smokescreen. … In those days, Evesham was a real ‘hot-bed of heresy’…”

Our Ministers’ Meeting still meets four times a year, one of which is the Asparagus Lunch. We traditionally invite the President of the General Assembly to do the toast

“To civil and religious liberty, the world over.”

This year’s President, Rev Celia Cartwright, reminded us that the battle for civil and religious liberty was far from over. She concluded her speech with the words, “When, in a moment, we rise to offer this toast, may it mean more than an echo of our past. Let it mean that we hold in our hearts all those who suffer beneath unjust civil and religious laws that their suffering may cease. Let us hold in our hearts all those who impose unjust civil and religious laws; let us hold in our hearts all those who strive for peace in our world, which can only come when in truth our desire for civil and religious liberty the world over has come to pass. May our hearts be open, that we too might not forget that in our lives our goal must be to strive for the rights of all persons to civil and religious liberty.”

Rev Celia Cartwright with Ministers’ Meeting Secretary, Rev Sue Woolley