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




July 19th, St. Mary’s Ambleside

St. Mary's Ambleside

I arrived back in the UK last Wednesday and have just spent a few days in the Lake District. Today was the first of my six Sundays away from Tokyo, and my first visit this summer to a church wherever I happen to find myself. The morning didn’t start well. I had checked service times at local churches and had found that St. Mary’s has an 8am Eucharist. Perfect. I liked the idea of attending an 8am service, as usual. However, when we arrived shortly before 8 there was a notice on the noticeboard saying there was NO 8am service this week and next. A pity that notice didn’t make it as far as the church website.

Not to be beaten I returned at 11 and this time was successful in attending a service. I received a warm welcome and had short chats with 2 men who were at the back of the church; one was in charge of the sound system, the other I think was just on hand to be sociable. Through them I found out that the church was Victorian, about 200 years old. When I commented that it was not as dark as I would expect for a church of that era Mr. Sound System explained that the church had been refurbished (did he say repurposed?) about 6 years ago, and the old dark flooring and dark pews had been replaced, and the walls painted. It really was a light-filled space. I heard also that the screen that the music is usally projected onto was not working, so we had sheets with he words instead. Thank goodness. I’m not a fan of screens and projectors in church.

Mr. Sociable directed me to the side of the church where there were a lot of leaflets and pamphlets available in a variety of languages. I picked up several in Japanese. He also told me that the church has a lot of visitors on any given Sunday. Last week the ratio had been one third regulars and two thirds visitors, but usually it’s reversed. I had a wander round the church, took a few photos, then sat down and watched preparations for the service. I had a look through the service book, and discovered it was one of the simple and modern Eucharistic Prayers from Common Worship. Nothing tricky to navigate there, then.

St. Mary’s is in the middle of an iterregnum, so they have no rector and the priest was the assistant priest (as listed in the notice sheet). There was a bit of faffing at the begining of the service, a few announcements, housekeeping stuff, and then we started the service.

A couple of observations:

– The hymns were a bit of a mixed bag, some traditional, like Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, and others that were clearly more modern. All the regulars seemed to know the modern ones, though.

– There was no Epistle reading. We went straight from Exodus to the Gospel. We stood for the Gospel but as far as I could tell it was read by a layperson.

The sermon

I liked the sermon, it was on today’s theme of Meeting God. The priest didn’t use the pulpit or notes. He spoke about Moses and the burning bush (from the Old Testament reading), then St. Peter denying Christ and Thomas doubting that the other disciples had seen the risen Christ. In each case he described it as God ‘sorting someone out’, then commissioning them. From there he moved on to what the church (meaning this church) could do to be more welcoming and inclusive. He had 3 suggestions:

1 To spend more time in silence and maybe even incorporate it more into worship. Here, he felt, was where people really could meet God.

2 To welome visitors and really listen to them.

3 To be part of the wider community, to not stay inside the church and lob ‘holy grenades’ over the wall regarding issues the church and its people felt strongly about, but instead to really engage and actively promote the church and its image in the town.

From there we moved to the intercessions, which were quite long and a bit of a bush telegraph. In the middle we were all required to ferret out our weekly notice sheet to recite the ‘interregnum prayer’. There was, I felt, quite a focus on local people and giving extra information. It made the intercessions longer and didn’t feel prayerful at all times.

Then we had another hymn, Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, while the bread and wine were prepared for the Eucharist. There was no collection. A plate had been left out before the service with a notice explainign that there would be no collection taken during the service, but at the end of the hymn the plate was carried up to the altar. I rather liked that, it seemed a better way than the pressure of the passed plate, but at the same time I wondered if the church received less because of it.

The Eucharistic Prayer was relatively short (I would say definitely no longer than the intercessions) and then we all received communion. While everyone went up the the altar rail there was a vaguely Celtic recorded version of When I Survey The Wonderous Cross which I could have one without. A bit of that silence the priest had mentioned would have been better. The wine was not wine but red grape juice.

After everyone had received comunion we said the post communion prayer and then were blessed. It was a pleasant service, and nothing was rushed. Everyone seemed friendly, they seemed more practiced in the art of welcoming visitors than some churches I’ve visited, but given their loction I suppose that makes sense. I liked the sermon, and the general atmosphere, and the church is lovely. I was less keen on the mixture of hymns and the long-winded intercessions, and I would have liked to have heard the Epistle read too.

The notice sheet was well done. It contained all the information I imagine regular parishioners need about the interregnum update and upcoming services and group meetings. What I really liked about it was its emphasis on prayer. There were detailed prayers for each day of the week ahead, and most importantly, this:

Keeping the Sabbath

Remember the day of rest is for worship and socialising.                                                                       Please try to do your Church, Parish Centre and school business on the other six days of the week.

I thought that simple reminder was something every church could well include in its weekly bulletin.

St. Mary's stained glass