One of the many lovely things about living in our villages is the sense of community that exists. I regularly hear people, young and old, talk about ‘their’ church. St. Mary’s is indeed ‘your’ church whether you come every week or only occasionally and perhaps the words of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, will offer even greater encouragement to you; he once said this: 'The church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.’ This is an inspirational quote every church could position perfectly at the bottom of emails sent or letters written, but Temple’s intention was full of unexpected challenge to the church if we dare take a closer look.
Our former Archbishop was questioning our common desire to create groups that suit and reflect us. Let me explain what I think he means with two simple examples: the first from my own personal experience and the second from the Bible itself. The first: after years of encouraging my Mum to go to church, she eventually went to her local village church. I was thrilled until she told me the story. She arrived a few minutes before the service was due to start, sitting near the back. A few moments later someone tapped my Mum on the shoulder and asked her to move because she was sitting in their seat. My Mum moved very quickly, dreadfully embarrassed as you can imagine. Guess what? Just as the service was about to begin someone else tapped my Mum on the shoulder and asked her to move yet again. She did, to her car and back home!
The second story is from the Bible. In Luke, chapter 19, Jesus was on his way to Jericho when he noticed a man up a tree. Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector who unexpectedly wanted to meet Jesus. He caused misery in people’s lives and was probably disliked by many or even hated by some. Yet Jesus believed Zacchaeus was a man who needed a chance to change. Such stories are inspiring and offer hope to everyone who feels lost or beyond saving. However, the story doesn’t tell us how the followers of Jesus felt. Suddenly, they had to welcome and make space for a man they didn’t trust or like. Can you hear those words of our former Archbishop: Church is the only institution that exists for those who are not its members. It exists for everyone, the good and the bad, those like us and those not like us, that all may find the hope of Jesus. If you feel like Zacchaeus, then come to your church and find hope, and in so doing, challenge us to be the church that William Temple described all those years ago!
Alan Comfort, Rector