This morning, both our retired Associate Clergy were keen to be on duty…one was due to preach and the other to preside at the main Parish Eucharist, so WonderfulVicar, who was going to Deacon, gave me the morning off once I’d celebrated at 8.00.
I dithered over my options.
Should I take the opportunity to discover just how very difficult the layout of St M’s, pillars and all, makes life for the congregation? And which parts of the service reminded me (to use the Ship of Fools guidelines for Mystery Worshippers) of heaven and which of the other place?? Or, should I enjoy a rare chance to see how things feel in another church in the deanery? And if so, which?
I decided that explaining to my own congregation quite what I was up to in the pews would be potentially exhausting (this is a church where people tend to robe for no good reason except that they CAN…and I’ve already alarmed them a bit by opting not dress up and sit in "state" when I’ve no specific job to do at Evensong) and that the chances of my escaping again on a Sunday in the near future were almost nil. Accordingly, as my chorister son departed noisily for St M’s, I got into my car and headed off for another St M, this time St Michael’s, a church in a very different part of Cheltenham with whom we will shortly be working more closely in that nebulous ecclesial unit a “cluster”.
And it was lovely.
St M’s is a 1960s church in an area of relative deprivation…It is an Anglican/Methodist Local Ecumenical Project, but there is currently no Anglican priest in post (oh if ONLY it had not been vacant now…it is so exactly the sort of church in the sort of area that I long to serve). This morning’s service was billed as “Morning Praise” and was, I discovered, entirely lay devised and lay lead. Regular readers will have gathered that “my” St M’s likes to do things properly…there are training programmes for everything from ironing the linen to swinging the thurible, and in our rather formal setting that’s probably a Good Thing. At the other St M’s, though, there is no such anxiety. It took me a while to work out exactly what the secret was, till I realised that people are there purely and simply because they want to be there to worship God,- and though worship is done with enthusiasm there’s not a whiff of polish about the place. I enjoyed being with them hugely, and am very excited that I may get the chance to join them again once in a while if the clustering takes off smoothly. An added bonus was this affirmation of faith (published in Bread of Tomorrow) . It comes from Ecuador, the work of Fray Guillermo Chavez,- and is, I think, simply stunning.
We believe in God, creator of the earth,
creator of life and freedom,
hope of the poor.
We believe in Jesus Christ,
friend in suffering,
companion in the resurrection,
way of peace.
We believe in the Holy Spirit
that holy force impelling the poor
to build a church of the beatitudes.
We recognise one baptism
in the blood of our martyrs;
we confess our faith
in the law of love.
We wait for the resurrection of the people,
and joyfully praise our Lord,
who has looked upon the disinherited,
those who have no bread, no home and no land.
Thank you, St Michael's, for restoring some balance to my diet...I was able to return to St M's in very good heart to baptise (a very serious young man who seemed old before his time,- his first birthday is just days away!), to preach at Evensong, and to try to inject some grasp of reality into plans for the Youth Groups' Birthday service next weekend. I just needed a reminder that the messy reality of the incarnation can be celebrated in the church as well as beyond...and it has made me very happy.