To everyone’s surprise, the first one to speak of embracing the new religion was Coifi, the chief priest of the old. But a lingering doubt remained that maybe the chief priest was more interested in getting the king’s attention than in being a true follower of Christ.
Perhaps all those who have read the account of the council in the works of Bede and doubted Coifi, wrong him. In any case, the next speaker’s words were long remembered. It was one of the Northumbrian nobles -- we do not know his name. Bede records his speech in his History of the English Church and People,
“It seems to me, O king, that this present life of man on earth in comparison with the time that is unknown to us, is like when you sit among your nobles and thegns on wintertide, and the fire is kindled and your hall is warmed, and it rains, and snows, and storms without. A sparrow comes and swiftly flies through the house, coming in through one door and out the other. So, during the time he is inside he is not troubled by the winter storm; but that is a mere eyeblink and the tiniest moment, and he soon returns to the winter from which he came. Even so, this life of man is but a fleeting appearance; what came before, or what follows after, we do not know. So, then, if this lore [the gospel] brings us any more certain knowledge, it is worth following.”
And so ran all the advice King Edwin received. The upshot was that the king and many of the members of his council were baptized into Christ shortly thereafter, on Easter Day, AD 627.
Saints come in all varieties. They are young and old, clergy and laity, male and female, wise and simple. Some we commemorate as Heroes of the Faith; others we remember as personal heroes, as those who have set us upon the path of discipleship (or brought us back when we have strayed from it). But the number of faithful witnesses and servants far exceeds those we can remember, either personally or as a Church.
This ealdormann’s word set in motion the conversion of an entire kingdom. He ought to be famous, yet we do not know his name. But surely, his name is known in heaven, and that is what counts. As Jesus told his disciples, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.”
And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
and one was a shepherdess on the green;
they were all of the saints of God, and I mean,
God helping, to be one, too.