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Monday, 19 May 2008

Worship on the move

Yesterday being Trinity Sunday was the name-day of Holy Trinity, Street, aka Street Parish Church.

So the evening service there was a bit different.

For a start, the choir and some children had been practising special music for the occasion. They had been meeting separately, adult choir on Thursdays and children on Wednesdays (all do to with the busy lives children lead nowadays), and they met to sing through the special music only 40 minutes before the service. Surprisingly, it all came off successfully.

Then the sermon slot was in fact a procession of everybody, service leader (Brian Moreby), choir and congregation, to a few key places inside and outside the church building.

We began with a reading, about the last days of St Gildas, from The Life of St Gildas, written in Latin by Caradoc of Llancarfan in the 12th century. I prefaced it by the warning: "It may, of course, be yet another example of Glastonbury legend."
The most religious Gildas, gaining permission from the Abbot, clergy and people of Glastonia, desired once again to take up the life of a hermit by the river bank close to Glastonia. He was able to carry out his wish. He built there a church in honour of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, in which he fasted and prayed unceasingly, dressed in goatskin, giving a blameless example of good living and religion. Holy men from distant parts of Britain came to visit him, a man who deserved such visits. He gave them counsel, and as they returned home they would recall his encouragement and advice with exultation.

In the end he fell ill. His illness grew worse, and he called the Abbot of Glastonia to him. He begged him, with much piety, that when he had ended his life's course his body should be taken to Glastonia Abbey, which he loved dearly. The Abbot gave his word. Gildas asked worthy men to carry out his wishes. While the Abbot grieved and wept copiously because of what he had heard, the most holy Gildas, very ill, died. Many people witnessed the fragrant angelic splendour around the body, the angels forming an escort for his soul. After a tearful commendation had been made, the frail body was carried by fellow monks to the abbey, and with great grief and due honour was buried in the middle of the pavement of St Mary's church. His soul went to its rest, and rests now. It will rest eternally in heavenly rest. Amen.
Then we all trooped out into the churchyard, following the processional cross which David Figures carried. We had a look at the huge oval area - you can see it clearly if you look towards Street Cross - that archaeologists say is a 'lan' built in the early sixth century, a Christian sacred place that was there long before our present church building.

We prayed these prayers:
O God, Three in One and One in Three, we give thanks for your servant who first made this place holy for your worship and service. We thank you for all the generations of people who, over 1400 years, have kept the faith and offered you their worship, many of whose bodies lie buried here.

Father, we bring to you all those in our generation whose loved ones are buried here, and those who come to tend the place where their bodies or their ashes are laid. May they find the peace of Christ and the joy of his resurrection. And we thank you for the Communion of Saints, that great company of all who are saved by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.

We remember before you the young people who come to school and college over the road, and who come here to relax. May they find that here the barrier between earth and heaven is thin; may they sense your presence and your peace.
Then the cross led us to the chancel, where we looked at the mediaeval roof timbers and the stone sedilia and the piscina, and thought of the original builders, and of the generosity of the small community of Street in the 13th century. The names of the four small land-holders in the early 13th century were Jordan, Roger, William and Martin, and the chaplain was Walter. We don't know the names of the two millers. Even if the original stone church was only today's chancel, it was a big and expensive building for such a small community. They gave God their best. The prayer here was:
O God, Three in One and One in Three, we thank you for the generosity of the first builders and of the many people who throughout the generations have given their best to you. Father, we know that compared with Jordan, Roger, William and Martin we live in a wealth and comfort beyond their imagining. Grant that in our easier lives we may not forget to be generous, and so may know the truth of those words of the Lord Jesus: Happiness lies more in giving than in receiving.
At the font we looked at the list of Rectors from 1304, and thought of the curates and chaplains who probably did the real work; many of the rectors were non-resident. We thought particularly of two 19th century curates whose names we do know, Nathaniel Merriman and Charles Fuge Lowder. Merriman was the one who learned the shoemaker's craft to be closer to the people he served, and who ate frugally so that he could give generously to those in need. Lowder was the one who went on to become a greatly beloved slum priest in London's East End.
O God, Three in One and One in Three, we give thanks for all those throughout the life of this parish who have been faithful ministers of your word and sacraments, and loving and caring pastors to the people. Father, we pray for our Rector John, his assistant David, our Reader Brian, and all who share in the work of the ministry. Keep them faithful to their calling. Give them encouragement in difficult times. And grant that they may see many people touched by your Spirit and coming to a living faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The font, as old as the church, reminded us of the place of children in the life of the Church. The largest congregation that meets in this building now is composed of children and their parents and grandparents - Sunrise! At Sunrise! we have seen baptisms, and at the next Sunrise! we shall see the dedication of a child. Our prayer was:

O God, Three in One and One in Three, we give thanks for all those who have been baptized in this font. We pray for those who have been baptized here and are still living, that they may live out in their own lives the promises they or their parents and godparents have made. May they know your love, sealed to them before ever they could understand it or respond to you.

Bless the parents of Street. Grant that those you call to lead children to you may be given the energy and grace to do their work well. Bless the coming Childrens Fest, and the continuing work of Sunrise! And make us a congregation where children and visitors may feel welcomed as into a loving family.

Our final stop was in the North Aisle, added in the 19th century. This is what I said:
Where we are now is inside the church building, but if we had been sitting or standing here 200 years ago we should have been in the open air. With the expansion of Clarks, Street expanded. With the expansion of Street, the church was extended. It was the rector Lord John Thynne who led the work. We may criticise the way it was done from an aesthetic point of view, but we must applaud the way Lord John saw how the church had to respond to the changing village and do something new, so that the people of Street, many of them newcomers, could hear the gospel and be brought into the Christian community.

We today face a bigger challenge than Lord John Thynne did. So many more people. Such an ignorance of the Gospel. Such outward prosperity and inner emptiness. Such a need of the Lord Jesus which people don't realise they have.

Jane Tompsett, back from Nigeria, has this morning been in Taunton. She will be in Street next Sunday. She wrote yesterday:

"This Sunday I will be in Taunton - exciting, as all churches will shut in the morning and there will be one massive worship service - I'm hearing 900 expected. God is doing some exciting things in Taunton."

I should love it if it could be said of us, God is doing some exciting things in Street. I wonder if he is asking us to do, in a different way and in our time, what Lord John Thynne did in the early nineteenth century?

O God, Three in One and One in Three, we give thanks for people in the past who saw people's changing needs and were prepared to make disruptive changes to meet their needs for your sake and for the Gospel. Shine a light on our path, by your Holy Spirit, and show us what you want us to do now, in our time, that your kingdom may come, your will be done, and your name be hallowed.
When everyone was back in their original places, we used the prayer written by Bishop Ken of Bath and Wells:

O God, make the door of this church wide enough
To receive all who need human love and fellowship,
And a heavenly Father's care,
And narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and hate.
Make its threshold smooth enough
To be no stumbling block to children
Nor to straying feet,
But rugged enough to turn back the tempter's power.
Make it a gateway to thine eternal kingdom.

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