August 23rd, Eckington again

S. S. Peter & Paul

Last Sunday I went to the parish church again. Another sunny morning, more bells. Although I don’t go there often it feels like my home church in the UK. I arrived and sat in the same pew as the week before, behind Jill, Eddie and Norah. Eddie and Norah were in the kitchen, getting ready for the fellowship time after the service, so I chatted with Jill until they arrived.

The first hymn was wonderful, the words were by Brian Wren. The second and third verses were particularly lovely:

I come with Christians near and far                                                                                    to find, as all are fed,                                                                                                   man’s true community of love                                                                                             in Christ’s communion bread.

As Christ breaks bread for men to share,                                                                      each proud division ends.                                                                                               The love that made us, makes us one,                                                                            and strangers now are friends.

The sermon was something that spoke to me, about welcoming the foreigner, the stranger. It’s something that I think about every week in Tokyo when others might visit us, and what I think about when I visit other churches. Later, at the Peace, someone said to me, you should teach us how to say it in Japanese! I told her how to say it, and she turned to the next person and said it to them. Somewhat perplexed, the recipient of the greeting said, what does that mean? I explained and added, the foreigner in the sermon? That’s me. Eddie heard me and said, you’re no stranger.

After the service I followed Eddie and Nora into the kitchen and helped with the tea and coffee and then the washing up afterwards. It was good to feel part of the regular rhythm of church life. When we had finished in the kitchen, it was time to say goodbye to everyone until December. Reverend Andy blessed me for my journey, we all hugged, and I left. For now.

I’m looking forward to seeing everyone at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

Eckington church altar

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August 16th, S. S. Peter & Paul, Eckington

S. S. Peter & Paul noticeboardYesterday I went to the parish church, since the village church, St. John the Evangelist, had a family service with no Eucharist. As usual, I received a warm welcome back.

It was a beautiful sunny day, the sky was a clear blue, and as I arrived and took the photo at the top of this blogpost Reverend Andy came over to put a new notice on the noticeboard. The church has taken all the names from the war memorial and is remembering each local man on the anniversary of his death, and there will be one of these services this week, remembering a man who died exactly one hundred years ago. It’s a wonderful thing they’re doing.

As the bellringers started I stood outside and listened to the bells, it’s always such a treat. Reverend Andy told me about the changes made to the belltower. Apparently they can silence the bells and practise without anyone outside the belltower hearing anything. The church recently spent quite a lot of money having work done on the belltower; I believe it’s called repurposing. Anyway, a new floor was put in one storey up, and that became the new bell loft, and the space below became the area for refreshments and fellowship after services, with a small kitchen attached. At the same time, the wall between the bell loft and the sanctuary was replaced with glass, so from inside the church it’s possible to watch the bells being rung.

After a wander round the church and some time listening to the bells, I went inside the church and had a chat with a few people, before sitting in the pew behind Eddie and Norah, faithful members of the church who have always been really kind to me.

At the beginning of the service, Reverend Andy welcomed people, adding ‘ohayo’ in Japanese, which he had asked me just a few minutes before. The service was quite different from the one at St. John’s the week before. For a start, there was an organist playing the organ, and quite a lot of the liturgy was sung. Of course, the building itself is completely different; it’s almost one thousand years old in parts, with stone floors, while St. John’s is a repurposed space, carpeted, and with more light. The two lessons were read from the lectern Bible, and the Gospel was read with more ceremony. Then Reverend Andy climbed up to the pulpit and preached from there.

I am reluctant to make sweeping statements about a priest’s preaching after listening to only two sermons, but I must say that I liked this week’s sermon much more than last week’s. In contrast to last week’s sermon on Ephesians (‘If Christ does it then crack on and do it yourself’) this week’s meditation on Solomon asking for wisdom, and what kind of gift we might ask of God, and what he might want to give us, I felt gave us all a lot more to think about.

The Eucharist was very moving for me. Of course it’s always the highpoint of the service, but sometimes it seems even more profound than usual and this was one of those times. The congregation is quite far away from the altar, so the walk up to the altar rail is further than usual in a parish church, and somehow that makes it feel more humbling to approach it.

Eckington church

After the service I stayed for a little while, and talked to Hazel and Don, two of the bell ringers. They told me about their holidays in the United States, visiting and ringing different church bells. Don told me that Eckington church is a bellringing teaching centre, and offered to teach me next summer. Apparently six weeks is enough to learn the basics. I’m rather tempted to do it. Eddie told me that he and Norah are on kitchen duty next Sunday, so for my last Sunday in the UK for a while I’ll be there again, and I’ll help out in the kitchen with them afterwards.

Eckington church is a wonderfully welcoming place. The congregation is middle-aged and elderly but faithful. People are warm and willing to have meaningful conversations in a way that I have not always found in other churches. I talked to Jill about her travels and life in Asia, and with Jean about the stained glass windows and how a church can be welcoming. Reverend Andy took time to talk to me even though he needed to get ready for the service, and afterwards spent time with others without seeming rushed, even though he had to go to St. John’s for their service at eleven o’clock. I had a brief conversation with my old headmaster, and was invited into the life of the church to learn bellringing and to help with kitchen duties. I am only there on a few Sundays a year but always feel at home, and am grateful to them all.

Eckington stained glass

 

August 9th, St. John the Evangelist, Ridgeway

St. John the EvangelistLast Sunday I went back to a church I hadn’t been to in about fifteen years.

I grew up in this village, went to the primary school here, and was confirmed in this church. I was a member here for several years, and when I first lived in Japan I maintained my membership here. Even though I come back regularly, I stopped going to this church a long time ago, and for many years thought I would never go there again. For the last couple of years I have been to the parish church when I’ve been here, and for the record, never saw anyone from St. John’s there. About a year ago the parish priest retired, and during the interregnum there were no services at St. John’s. In January the new piest arrived, and now there are two services a month; on the second Sunday there’s a Eucharist, and on the third Sunday there’s a Family Service.

About a fortnight ago I found the church’s Facebook page, and within a day was welcomed in a comment by Reverend Ian, who I believe is a non-stipendiary minister. I replied in a comment and explained my former connection with the church, which he apparently passed on to people at a joint service at another church on August 2nd. Through Facebook I was able to ask him about services at St. John’s and so found out that there was a Eucharist last Sunday. It seemed time to go back.

I arrived a few minutes early and was greeted by Richard, who was the sidesperson that morning. I believe he’s also a member of the PCC and a church warden. He greeted me warmly, as did his wife, Diane. I sat between them during the service. I was also welcomed by Janice, Sue and Gaynor. I hadn’t seen them all in so long, I felt a bit sheepish and not deserving of so much affection after being away so long. The service should have started at 11am but was ten minutes late, because the priest, Reverend Andy, had to rush from the parish church after the 9:30 service there.

There were between ten and fifteen people there. The service used a Family Communion booklet from Common Worship. The Peruvian Gloria was led with great gusto by Reverend Andy, Richard and Diane read the lessons. There was no organist, so we sang hymns accompanied by recordings of an organ. It felt a little odd to see the organ closed and not being used, because my father was the organist here for a number of years after he retired.

The sermon was shorter than I am used to, but I remember sermons always being quite short at St. John’s. Reverend Andy preached on the Epistle reading we had heard, from Ephesians, then paraphrased its message of emulating Christ in a North East Derbyshire kind of way, comparing it to the children’s game, Simon Says. ‘If Jesus did something it’s probably a good idea for us to crack on and have a go at it ourselves.’

It was good to be back, it was good to reflect on where I started my faith journey. As I worshipped last Sunday, in a church that used to be my home I realised how far I have come. I realised how much the shape of my faith has changed. A quarter of a century ago I set out on this journey and was most at home in this low church way of worshipping. Recently I have been noticing just how Anglo Catholic I have become.

Last summer I blogged about the churches I visited and the services I attended and found myself reflecting on how visitors are welcomed, what I could learn about how my home church is. This summer I am turning it all back on myself, learning about what is going on for me and clarifying exactly where I find myself. Turns out I’m in an interesting place, and I’m wondering where I’m going to end up.

It was humbling to go back to St. John’s and be welcomed so warmly when I had stayed away so long. And it was lovely to see this window again.

St. John's altar and window