Having mentioned in the sermon on the Sunday before heading off on holiday that if any of us were heading off on holiday elsewhere we should take the opportunity to join and experience other communities of faith wherever we find ourselves, I took the children to do just that yesterday morning. Carolyn stayed at the cottage to get some work done on an essay due this week (oh such holiday fun for her!).
Not being sure where the nearest church was, we headed for the nearest biggish town, Bude, on the North Coast of Cornwall aiming to be there for 10 a.m. in case the services began then during the summer. [There's more...]
A fast dash across country got us into Bude Haven bang on 10 a.m. Never having been to Bude before, we did what travellers for centuries must have done and looked for a steeple. On the Southern side of the harbour on the hillside we saw one and wound our way up a narrow lane to the church. In time? A sigh of relief as by now it was nearing ten minutes past ten and the complicated sign announced that the first Sunday of the month was Eucharist Manse at 11:15 a.m. St Michael and All Angels was one of four Chuch of England congregations looked after by one Parish Priest, a rather dashing-looking Father David Standen - it is a situation that sounds very familiar to rural areas of the CofS.
With an hour or so to pass, I took the children down along the canal to the beach and harbour. There was a huge gathering on the sand of all ages for what looked like some kind of surfing camp - fun, though it was overcast and the wind off the Atlantic was breathtaking, literally. I wasn't tempted to don a wetsuit and join them, put it that way!
Having played on the beach and had a wee look around the harbour area, including a tiny castle, we headed back up the hill to the church. I started to feel a little trepidation about taking the children with me into what was going to be a traditional CofE Eucharist, not exactly child-friendly... the welcome was warm, including one chap who turned out to be the Precentor who said, "It is lovely to have someone young come along to the church," and he then pointed at me saying, "and I mean you!"
I was impressed, however, that they had comic books available for the children that helped explain the Eucharist. One lady in particular made us most welcome by giving me directions to all the facilities so that should I need to leave the church during the service I knew what to do... for the toilet this involved heading out of a locked side door along the side of the building to the loo alongside the vestry at the chancel end of the church - a loo that was festooned with pictures of Penguins... I never quite made the connection why.
It has been a long time since I worshipped in a CofE Mass, but much of the service liturgy was just as I remembered it. The choir and clergy processed in behind the crucifix and incense. The children had never experienced the incense before and Andrew, who was right by the aisle, gave me a stunned look as he grabbed his throat. Katherine's eyes popped out when she caught a whiff.
The children actually did very well, and funnily enough all the bells and smells helped a lot in keeping their attention. The priest moving into the centre of the church to read the Gospel was high drama that was very effective.
In the sermon we heard about Saint Aristobulus, who I confess I had never heard of..., he turns out to be one of the 70 sent out by Jesus. He was a Jewish Cypriat and became the first bishop of Britannia. He answered the call to serve in a land not nearly so tame as it is now! The call to service and the challenges of serving the church and community with diminishing numbers of parish priests had a familiar theme to some of the discussions we are having in the CofS at the moment.
For the Eucharist itself we came forward to be served the bread (wafer) and wine rather than our tradition of remaining seated while being served by the elders. There was something encouragingly proactive about making the decision to come forward to partake. The children came with me and were each given a blessing by the priest - something I found very moving.
The friendliness of what was an ageing congregation (there were two other children present, who I found out after the service were the only children in the congregation) was confirmed over refreshments at the end of the service which included a birthday cake for one of the leaders (maybe the verger, but I am not sure on exact roles!) who celebrated his 75th. The children loved being able to join in with this festivity.
The genuine interest and warm laughter, plus the very encouraging, as a parent, comments about the good behaviour of the children, left a very pleasant impression of this small faith community in Bude. God's blessing be with them for the future.
For the rest of the day we explored Bude, getting thoroughly soaked on the waterbreak as the sea mist came in driven by those still ferocious winds. And we all wished we had been prepared enough to bring jackets...
Next week's service at St Michael and All Angels is at 9:30 a.m. which I think may be a bit too early for us, so we'll find somewhere else to worship next Sunday. I wonder where...?