I don’t know about you but whenever I visit a place, I nearly always pop into the local church. When we were in Amsterdam after New Year, to my family’s frustration, we’d end up inside some church or other. And when I’m at home and spending time around St Mary’s (praying, filling in paperwork, setting up for a service or even walking the dog) I nearly always meet someone passing by who has popped in for a moment of quiet, or to tend a grave, or to have a look round. I always love reading the comments in our visitors’ book and seeing who has come to have a look and where they are from.
Of course a church is more than bricks and mortar. It is a community of people who, together, live in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. There is a church at the heart of every community. And each one puts its faith in action. Churches locally run food banks and offer debt counselling, host groups and classes, offer pastoral care and bereavement support, serve meals or deliver them, and so much more.
Our churches belong to everyone. The buildings are often one of the oldest buildings in the community, and in many rural areas they are quite often the only community building. These communities often use their churches in imaginative and creative ways.
I know of a church where they don’t have a hall so they run all sorts of groups and activities, including a play group in the church during the week. There’s a village not far from here that was about to lose its Post Office and the church stepped in and runs it from the church building along with a small village shop. Some may find these other uses a challenging concept but throughout Christianity our churches have always been used in a variety of ways. In fact, many of the early Christian communities mentioned in the Bible met in people’s homes, until they grew too large and a dedicated building was needed.
Which leads us to the spiritual side of our church buildings.
When you call into a church, just think about the number of prayerful people who have stepped over the threshold over the years, and all the prayers of the faithful that have helped create the special atmosphere that we often sense when we step inside.
St Mary’s is open every day and we have an easy-to follow leaflet that offers a short walking tour round the building – pointing out some of the history and the key features that you can see. But if you call in, and we hope you will, as well as looking at the history and architecture, you might like to treat it as way of having a quiet meditative tour around the church. You may like to think about the following as you do.
The doors – are a symbol of God who welcomes each one of us into God’s presence.
The font – the starting point for many people on their journey of faith – what might you want to start afresh by leaving behind?
The pulpit – there may not be anyone preaching when you visit a church, but listen in the silence for God’s voice.
The aisle – imagine the thousands of people who have walked here before you. Some come weekly, some come for those moments on life’s journey – to bring their child for christening, to be married or to say farewell to a loved one. All those life stories in this one place.
The walls, pillar and roof – think how long they have stood there, solid and strong. Imagine the storms they have withstood. For centuries people have come to church to find shelter and refuge from the storms of life. You may be feeling battered by life’s storms at the moment. Pray for God’s protection and peace.
God of our journey, we thank you for your church throughout the ages.
Thank you for all those people who have walked the journey before us.
Thank you for the community of faith that gathers here week by week,
and who share your love within our community.
Help us to know your presence with us,
both inside this building and alongside us day by day.
The Revd Will Gibbs, Vicar – St Mary’s Church, Redbourn