In the rain, off to a joint Benefice service at Only Felicity Paulton officiated over by Canon Stephen Purvis. There were a goodly crowd of people, some of whom were strangers to me which is no surprise since they were from adjacent parishes.
As soon as the Canon opened his mouth, I realised we were going to have a quality service. He introduced himself by telling us where he had had residences, mostly in the north-east of England and declaring his love for Sunderland football club. He spoke about the conflict with Syria and how we needed to find a better way of expressing ourselves as a country in a conflict situation but also expressing ourselves to each other. We should never ask people if they are “saved” but but we should witness openly to our views and opinions as Christians. About yesterday’s bombing on Syria he thinks we should never underestimate the power of prayer. He spoke of ‘thin’ places where the interface between heaven and earth was more intimate and mentioned his conducted retreats on Holy Island. I have always wanted to go there I will put that on my list. Stephen said that it’s a wonderful time when the tide comes up, the tourists have left and you have the island to yourself This is a video about retreats for those inclined.
I was further impressed by the way he articulated the service. He didn’t just gavels through prayers but gave each sentence, each phrase, each word, the gravity that it deserved and managed to convey the dignity of the Bible particularly the new Testament. I believe that only people who have had a spiritual experience can do justice to reading the Gospel. I felt I could have been at a very important national service because I ended the service feeling uplifted, elevated, and to be able to take on the world with more confidence knowing that the spirit of God is within me.
The service ended and another remarkable feature happened. The congregation normally disappear between 5 to 10 min after the service but everybody lingered. The service ended at 11:20 AM but an hour later people was still talking in an animated fashion. It was as if the celebrant had communicated the original spirit of Christianity which happened to be in the English language but was a universal language. Over coffee, One woman admitted that she found it very difficult to talk to people in public. I got the impression this was the first time she had ever been able to say this.
The Canon discussed his observation that many priests are introspective and do not have the ability to welcome people. He said that he found that retired priests had this trait as well and were often very difficult to have conversation with. When the Canon was a young man, he was given the advice never to have friends within the parish though he said you can do so when you have left. There are sound reasons for this is not the least of which is getting overly emotionally involved with your parishioners.
I get a daily newsletter from many of the Christian based sites including one called “Christianityworks”. The title was “How Friendly is your Church?”. A man who did not go to church and did not call himself a Christian decided to go to church one Sunday. He was travelling on business so was a transient. The greeters outside the front door were drinking coffee and he received a perfunctory hello before walking through the doors. When the second greeter asked him where he was from and when he explained he was from overseas and was transient the lady made it clear that he was not a person of interest.
He noticed that although the pastor went round greeting people and others were talking, not one single person came up and asked him why he was there. No one made him welcome. He said he felt completely alone although he was in the midst of the church and wondered what would have been the result if he was really in need, perhaps suicidal, and was going to the church as a last chance saloon. He wondered what was happening to all this preaching about the love of Jesus when it was not shown in reality.
Apparently countervalent to what I’ve been saying, Colin Smith, the preacher to be heard on my favourite Trans world International radio station. “if you know that the best is yet to come, you are free”. He was speaking about Jesus death and resurrection but it could apply to anybody. I think that one really has to sink in.
The most trivial and local story was about my efforts to get rid of all my garden rubbish when this was the last day the recycle would be open for two weeks as I mentioned yesterday. I decided to turn up at eight o’clock for a nine o’clock opening and passed my time listening to the morning service, a very enlightening service about breathing. It was then followed by a 10 minute soliloquy on the use of such terms as bonkers, mad, psychopathic, and suggesting that it was a lazy error to ascribe attributes of mental illness to people who were just expressing themselves in certain ways.
The gates of the recycle opened at 9:01 AM. By 9:10 AM I was out. There were no less than 50 cars queuing right up the Radstock Road and right down the same road to get in. I’m so glad I spent the hour quietly listening to the radio rather than spending about the same time sitting in a moving queue moving forward one car’s length, stopping, trying to prevent someone from cutting in and so forth.
I quietly patted myself on the back.