Sunday, January 15, 2017

Reflections from the Brigg Road: One Sunday in North Lincolnshire

(Following attendance at two services in two different parishes in the Diocese of Lincoln this morning, I was asked to write a reflection on my experiences. This is the text of that reflection.)

One, a market town with a population of roughly 5,600 along the River Ancholme. The other, a tiny village numbering slightly more than 450 within the boundary of a larger agricultural parish. In the first, a service of Holy Eucharist was held in a recently-renovated church hall equipped with lighting and heat, kitchen facilities and running water. In the second, a similar service took place in a 12th century Norman church with no electricity, no lights, no heat and no running water. For those at the former, there is only the passing question of whether to hang coats and scarves in the entryway or on the backs of their chairs. Those at the latter need not ask; there, the question is instead how many layers of cloaks and clothing are needed to insulate against the cold.

At the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Brigg, you could hear the words of the Liturgy spoken by the congregation of 40. For the four seated in the choir of the Church of All Saints in Cadney, you were also able to see your words, each prayer and each “Amen!” hanging in the air as the breath escaped the lungs and froze in the chilled air.

Two parishes separated by just 2.9 miles – not even five minutes in a car – yet seemingly coming from two different worlds. How, then, could anyone ever compare worship in a modern space, with music and lights, with a service that has been stripped of all except the words, in a space lit only by candles and whatever shines through the windows? What do these two churches have in common?

Quite simply, the love of God, the love of worship and the sacredness of fellowship. Despite being in each for only a brief  time, I could feel the strong presence of God in the midst of these gatherings and see it reflected on many, many faces. In both places, there is a strong tie binding them together, even beyond  simply being present as members of the congregations. And for  both, I experienced that their true warmth comes not from central  heating or bundling up in coats and scarves, but from the welcome they extend to the stranger and the love they share with one  another.

I found myself on the receiving end of many smiles, handshakes and brief conversations in Brigg, engaging with those who took it upon themselves to seek me out as a visitor and make me feel welcome. I heard stories of life in Brigg and of why St. John and its life in community have made the town identifiable as a home in a much deeper way than any post code or street address. One even told me of how he derives so much joy in sharing his gifts with others in community theater productions.

The same was true with my visit in Cadney. Despite being a much smaller congregation, I was accepted not for simply being someone visiting from the United States for a day, but instead as a beloved member of their community, kneeling as family at the altar in a shared act of worship. I was brought into conversation with everyone, being asked about my home and about what I have found  to be the most impactful moments during my time in England. I was even privileged to share in the joyful expectation of one who, as he said, was looking forward to getting back home after the service to join with family and friends in celebrating a beloved grandchild’s 16th birthday.

My journey down Brigg Road revealed much. For all of the stark differences I expected to find, one thing was made clear. This was a journey between two brackets bounding a shared story. St. John and All Saints are joined by much more than simply being two parts of the Benefice of St. John the Evangelist. They are joined in the strength of and joy in their worship. They are joined in what as I witnessed as a living out of Matthew 25:35: "I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me." And they are joined forever as companions on the journey through this life and as faces of those seeking to serve God in all persons, truly loving their neighbors - and their visitors - as themselves.

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