The Swings and Roundabouts of Grace, by Ben Jeapes

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Today is the last day of my home town Abingdon’s annual Michaelmas Fair. Europe’s longest street fair, for those who note such things. The entire half-mile length of Ock Street – the main route into the town centre – is sealed off and packed with rides and stalls for two days. The inhabitants of Ock Street have to take it on the chin, but it’s very good about shutting down prompt at 11pm, and then they get a much quieter night's sleep than usual, as no traffic can use what is normally a main thoroughfare.

The fair is always kicked off by a Christian service in the Market Place. It might seem odd for all the worldly excess and bedlam and far too much money spent for far too little gain to be linked with Christianity, but in fact it’s only right to do so. The fair is such a large item on Abingdon’s annual calendar, so much a part of our town’s life and attended by several thousand people, that it would be irresponsible not to commit such an event to God.

The preacher had no difficulty in making the connection. For far too many, he said, Christianity seems to be about po-faced rules and regulations, but in fact Jesus’s life and ministry were characterised by joy. God loves to throw a party, and faith is more about fun than fear. Where would Jesus be if he was in Abingdon now? Without a doubt, at the fair – simultaneously having fun with that thrumming mass of humanity and giving them what they needed.

There’s more. The fair began, in days gone by, as the great apprentice-hiring event of the year, where young men left home for the first time and took their first steps as adults in the world. Leaving home is something everyone has to do – it’s a vital stage in our growing into the people that God intended us to be. The original Michaelmas Fair must have been key in God’s plans for the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people. Leave home, learn a trade, earn a living, start your own family, repeat.

And this time next week there will be a much smaller fair, held just in the town centre. This started as the Runaway Fair. Many apprentices who didn’t take to their new masters could run away and have a second chance at finding employment. There was an unspoken amnesty, an agreed period of grace among the masters for that week. They could have stood on their rights and thrashed their ungrateful wards or taken them to the cleaners for breach of contract – but instead, they gave this second chance, no questions asked.

Many of them might have been in the same situation, once.

Is that not grace?

On my way back home afterwards I passed some early revellers laughingly – and quite soberly – trying to limbo dance under the traffic barriers at the end of Ock Street. Could I imagine Jesus doing that, too? Rather to my surprise, yes, I could ...

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of 5 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer.


  1. Really interesting! I used to teach in Abingdon, when I lived in Oxford. I used to dread the fair, as the students wanted to talk about nothing else! Didn't know any of this though, so thank you!


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