A peace which passes all understanding
It is received wisdom that when you take on a Church as a new vicar you should change as little as possible. When you do change anything it should be slowly and in agreement with the community you serve. The people in this parish will tell you that this snippet of wisdom fell from the back of my moving lorry! Instead, I have taken the view that some things are so central to my leadership and ministry that the inevitable struggle that comes with changing anything might as well be had now.
I love my parish, and my people, but much in the way a gardener loves starting on a new project or setting out in early spring for the growing year. I loved it and because of that I wanted it to grow. There are many things that we have done together since I arrived, but one of the first is still one of the most powerful and satisfying – unlocking the doors and trusting the people we serve to share, make use and respect the sanctuary that is our parish church.
Back in 2018, when we tentatively made the decision to unlock and open our doors daily, people were understandably cautious. Having loved and cared for the building, given time and money to its maintenance and improvement, many were mindful of the possibility of its vandalism or destruction. However, in our initial discussions it was clear that the good Christian people here were more mindful of the fact that we were simply the custodians of the faith and the building on behalf of the entire community.
Interestingly, we live in times when many have attempted to dismiss physical space and ceremony, buildings and objects as being symbolic and unnecessary to some true ‘essence’ of faith that can be conveyed in other ways. Some have gone further and used this time to promulgate an old, puritanical and naive idea that all this is actually a barrier to our growth in faith. Much of this is discussion for a separate post perhaps.
Outside the arguments about symbols and sacramentals there are two truths we can hold onto with certainty. The first is real comfort this sacred space offers to all sorts of people in our community. Mthr Louise, Chris Aguda, Pam Staw, Paul Siddall and many others have come across a stranger or unlikely soul taking some time with God at the Church. The second is that Christ is truly present in the sacrament which is housed in our Church. The building is more than symbolically a house of God, because God truly dwells there in the person of his son whose flesh is the true and living bread form heaven.
Of the many people I have discovered in church, a vast majority have been at some desperate time or in particular need of God. It seems that when the going gets tough there is even more imperative to provide people with a sanctuary. We are in the toughest times at the moment and the need for faith, hope and love seems more vital than ever. Whilst our NHS battles on the frontline of science and medicine there is a spiritual battle that is being fought alongside them. A battle against despair, desperation, selfishness and greed.
Having out building open acknowledges to the world that the fabric is just a thing and should it be tarnished or ruined, our faith will be undaunted. It is also a power act of sharing that faith, hope and love with a people we serve by inviting them to make themselves at home in God’s house. My prayer is that when they make their visit alone they might notice the presence of another, that they might feel that radiating love which is the peace of God which passes all understanding.