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.┬áThe 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




St. John the Evangelist

St. John the Evangelist

Another Sunday, another church, but this one is special, because my friend is the vicar. It was a Family Eucharist, and all we needed was a laminated service sheet, (A4, printed on both sides) and this week’s bulletin (B4, folded, printed on both sides) containing the hymns, collects and announcements.

Since it was a family service it wasn’t difficult to follow. I just had to remember to keep an eye on both sheets. Of course, I am kind of biased because it’s my friend’s parish, but I did enjoy the service. Her homily was short and held the children’s interest but had a message for the adults present too.

To receive communion we all stood in a circle around the altar, and children who didn’t receive the bread and wine received a blessing and a sticker, which I thought was a wonderful idea. I saw a little girl later with her sticker proudly stuck on the front of her dress.

After the service there were refreshments at the back of the church. All the children sat together on the floor (apparently there are usually tables and chairs) and the adults stood around and chatted. I asked for a cup of tea and then stood near the table and . . . no one spoke to me. Eventually the person in charge of the tea and coffee said something, but no one else said anything to me at all.

And so I was left wondering again, what is it about Anglicans and welcoming visitors (or not)? Why are we not very good at it? I was there with a member of their vicar’s family, so right there I would think are two points; I must be a visitor (because they don’t know me) but I am with someone they know, so surely it would be easy to start a conversation?

I know we all lead busy lives, and one of the joys of being a member of a congregation is the connections to be made, the friends to catch up with every week (or however often you attend). Of course that shouldn’t be neglected but what about the visitor? Can’t we spare a few minutes to welcome them?

Every week when I am in the UK I attend a different church, but every week I am struck by the same things; I am a visitor and yet no one checks if I know my way round the service, if I am clear about how to receive communion, and no one talks to me unless I lurk near them for a while and they eventually can’t put off speaking to me any longer.

For about three years I was a member of a Lutheran church in Tokyo and I was impressed by how different their approach to visitors was. There was always a welcome, a small joy at someone new joining the worship. It’s not difficult, and surely we can all do it.

We may be greeting someone who has felt called by God to come to church, but is feeling nervous, unsure of what to do, who needs a helping hand through the service, a smile over a cup of coffee. It’s such an opportunity and one that is so often missed.

We may be entertaining angels. We may be welcoming someone to church for the first time, and our greeting, conversation, help might make all the difference in the world.