18th June 2020

Dear Friends

It was a wonderful feeling to be able to open the church doors on Monday for the first time in three months, it was equally wonderful to see people using the space for prayer and solace. Sacred space has always been very important to me. As many of you know I came from a family where the Church and faith were at the very periphery of life, in fact a non-existent component. I had been forced to attend Mattins at our local parish church as a requirement of attending Cubs and Scouts, a drab liturgy celebrated in a drab Victorian church – I hated it. Yet in the midst of this desert I discovered a space which moved and inspired me, though I daren’t tell my mother about it. At the age of about 8 or 9 years, I can’t remember now, I accompanied one of my neighbours children, she was called Gillian, to her local church, St Stephen’s, she was going to make her confession. It was the first time I had ever entered a Roman Catholic building and as I sat in church waiting for Gillian, I was quietly blown away. It was a relatively modern building, built in the 1950s – this was 1970/71 after all. I remember the uncluttered space, the white walls, the size – it seemed massive and the emphasis was on the vertical, I knew instantly that this was a building serious in its intent, liberating in its design and enfolding in its atmosphere. I was hooked and have been ever since. Church buildings and the space they enfold are vital for our well being and health. They are oases in which our souls are refreshed, pools of tranquility in the midst of hectic lives. Richard Giles in his wonderful book ‘Repitching the Tent’ talks about church space being “a symbol of security and safety at the heart of God’s covenant with his people, and a place of encounter with the unknowable God, a frontier between earth and heaven”. You might want to call it an icon – a window leading us into the divine presence, or an outward sign of God’s continued accompanying presence. Whatever term you might want to use this space is important and transformative of our human condition and a vital component in the mix of our communities. Yet, like the children of Israel, who were constantly on the move and whose theology, their understanding of God, was constantly challenged and adapting to new circumstances, so too our space like our theology, must reflect our times. We worship a God made visible in Jesus Christ who preached a gospel of total change metanoia and of a God who accompanied his children on their journey. I wonder if this pandemic is not an opportunity to look again at how we use our buildings, to be both a place of security and a stepping stone to new life.

Simon