Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Leafy Suburb Church

Off I went to Leafy Suburb Church last night; I probably could have attended a service more locally, but I wanted to touch base with some people there. It takes me an hour and a half to get there and the same again to get back, and it's a rather fiddly journey with three changes. People sometimes speak of "thin places", places or times where the boundary between heaven and earth seems especially fragile... and I think I don't usually like that language, because the word "seems" is so easily dropped and then we start to think that one bit of Creation is somehow more holy than another.

But if I believed in these "thin places" I think Leafy Suburb Church would be among them, for me. I am particularly susceptible to a strong awareness of God while I am there, and even better, to a feeling of belovedness, a sense of being loved and cared for by God.

Some of that is because of the ministry of two women, one of whom was so very dear to me even before she started there, and one of whom I hardly know but who has been full of welcome. It pains me to admit it, but I do feel safer with women in charge. That isn't a reflection on Gentle Vicar who leads Nearest Church, or on the kindly, rather grandfatherly vicar at Long Walk Church, or on various other male clergy I have come across... it's just that I am slow to overcome past hurts. And so I thank God for women's ministry in general, and for these two women's ministry in my life.

Some of it is the choir. They have been as welcoming as can be.

The the choir were kind to me when I was in touch about a sort of secret project (long since completed). Last Easter I could hardly be said to have embraced Christian faith -- I'm still not sure about some of the essentials -- but on that Easter Sunday I did know, pretty clearly, that I really would rather be in the choir than in the congregation. I guess the choir knew it too, because I was welcomed with open arms. Now when I am there I sing in the choir if it is a choral service.

I started attending Leafy Suburb Church because I wanted to visit Ambassador for Compassion, and to do a bit of research for the aforementioned secret project... the "church" bit was rather secondary. The congregation were as friendly and welcoming as the choir later turned out to be. AfC made sure I had someone to sit with, but always people greeted me, and mostly they remembered me. At last night's non-choral service I was reminded of this by someone who doesn't usually attend the Evensong services I can get to; she came up and introduced herself, and without actually asking if I needed anything seemed to make clear that if I did, I could ask. It may well be that there is some committee or other that deals with whose turn it is to be welcoming but it didn't feel like that. It didn't feel stilted or contrived or something she was doing because it was her "turn"; it felt like the most natural thing in the world to happen there.

Even the building helps, I think. It's not a large church, but it is an old one, and those ancient stones feel cozy rather than constricting, comfortable rather than claustrophobic. We all have to sit rather closer together than we might choose to in a larger space and this is, I think, good.

It is all rather wonderful, in the sense of being full of wonder. I'm sure it isn't perfect, but the overall effect is such that going there stopped being just about seeing AfC quite some time ago. It has become something else, something halfway between retreat and pilgrimage, a place to sit and rest and a place to grow, a destination and a step along the journey. I leave with happy reluctance, feeling well-nourished, ready to go out into the world but also ready to stay in church much longer.

Thanks be to God.

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