Thought for the week, 19th July; Where prayer has been valid.
So at last, churches are reopening. Billingsley church has been open to visitors for around three weeks now and I am aware that a number of people have been going in. I would encourage anyone who wishes to visit; the church is always open so just turn up and go in. Tomorrow we take another step with our first services; an 8.00am communion in Billingsley followed by a 10.30 service in Glazeley. Next week we have a 6.00pm evening service in Billingsley.
All this raises an important question; why do we bother with our buildings? A couple of weeks ago, I reprinted a cartoon that very powerfully made the point that the church exists wherever people of faith are. In normal times, my altar is my computer in my office at Aston University, where I work four days a week; currently it is the computer in my living room as I work from home. In the days of the early church, the first Christians met in the homes of those who had space to accommodate them. Could we not revert to that for regular worship, or perhaps hire a building if the numbers are large enough? Within the benefice, we have a service that regularly takes place in the Severn Centre in Highley. For many years, some have complained about the way the church spends an inordinate amount of time maintaining buildings it no longer needs.
I understand these arguments and up to a point, I can agree with them. I once lived in Cambridge, where I doubt all the city centre churches and chapels were ever viable. There comes a point where a church, however venerable, is simply unaffordable. But there is another voice that I hear. Particularly in rural benefices such as ours, our churches have been sacred places for a millennium or so; quite possibly the space was used for worship before a stone of our current Norman buildings were laid. There is a quality of peace and simplicity in the buildings and the churchyards that speaks to many, even if they would not wish to identify as Christians. The poet T.S. Elliot seems to me to sum it up in some lines he wrote about a medieval place of pilgrimage, Little Gidding, in East Anglia.
“You are not hear verify, instruct yourself, inform curiosity, or carry report. You are here to kneel, Where prayer has been valid”.
Whilst people still find help in our places, where prayer has been valid, my wish is to keep them open if at all possible.
Little Gidding, verse 3, TS Elliot
If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.
And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Here, the intersection of the timeless moment
Is England and nowhere. Never and always.