The Revd Simon Cansdale talks about a partnership between St Mary’s Church, Chesham and Italian carpenter and pastor Andrea Sanfelici.

Andrea is a skilled carpenter and pastor of a small church outside Verona, Italy. At St Mary’s Chesham we have a strong friendship with Andrea’s church and each year they send back gallons of olive oil, mountains of Parmesan cheese and buckets of homemade jams. (We do pray for each other and visit each other’s churches too!).

Andrea contacted us last year after I had idly mentioned it would be nice to have a new wooden cross in the church. He had an old stump of olive wood and said he would like to use it to make us a cross.

Andrea explained the creative process when he came to visit: “I am so pleased to leave this cross with you, which unites us as the family of Christ.

“I love working with wood, but making a cross out of olive wood for you, well, it’s much more than that. I’ve never had the chance to cut into an olive tree trunk. It is a unique wood; its colours, warmth and the veins running through it are extraordinary and remind me of you all.

“We read in the Bible about the dove bringing back a lone olive branch to Noah, and Jesus praying amongst the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. Olive wood has real power for me as a Christian carpenter; I’m sure Jesus learnt how to work with olive wood from his father.

“When I got the olive stump I decided to let the veins be the design and shape of the cross and they run through both the upright and the horizontal pieces of wood. It was as if the wood was showing me how I had to carve it. I have always been struck by what Michelangelo said about his sculptures: ‘I have only freed the shape that was already in the marble before it was imprisoned.’ I think that in my very simple way, I can understand that feeling.

“When I’d finished, I drenched it with olive oil to be true to its origins. This was a prayerful moment for me, as I thought about Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit living in us.”

As we all sat and listened to Andrea, and began to see the complexity and beauty of what he’d made, we couldn’t help but be moved by this poignant reminder of how we are all beautiful works of art (with our many flaws and wounds) in the eyes of the carpenter.

The Revd Simon Cansdale is the Rector of St Mary’s, Chesham.