SUNDAY MORNING September 4, 2016
Worshipping at St. George’s Church of England in Kendal.
What really impressed us, though, was the area of missing pews in the back left-hand side of the nave.
The place has been dedicated to children: carpeted floor, toys, other welcoming signs telling little ones, “You belong here.” We’ve never seen such a concern for children in a formal worship setting like this before.
I should note that when we looked over St. George’s on Saturday, no one was around, but the building was unlocked–as were the other ones we visited on weekdays in Mexico and now in England. This would not have been our experience in most of America, where they are locked tight except during services. Sad.
Convinced this church was alive, we decided to return on Sunday. We weren’t disappointed. Greeters warmly met us at the door and helped us make our way in to join the other 60-70 worshippers, mostly elderly. We fit right in.
Associate Priest Jean Radley, with whom I immediately fell in love, led the service. She reminded me of my grandmother: very short (less than 5′), lively, with a sincere smile, a gentle demeanor, and reassuring confidence. She is at home in her role and with her people. She led us through the liturgy with a surefootedness I envied. (For many years I joked that I might have been an Episcopalian minister if I could learn to get through the liturgy without messing it up somehow. I remembered that line this morning as I stumbled and mumbled my way along , often on the wrong page and grateful nobody but Joy could hear me. She’s accustomed to my miscues, so it was OK.)
The congregational singing was not exactly robust. Years ago, when I was coming to England annually, I concluded the Brits deliberately choose unsingable tunes–which of course means they aren’t what I’m used to in American churches. The natives don’t complain, though. I tried to sing this morning but simply couldn’t find the right pitch for any of the five or six stanzas in the several hymns we attempted. Still, the words were meaningful, especially of the one song I knew:
. All I once held dear, built my life upon, all this world reveres and wars to own; all I once thought gain I have counted loss–spent and worthless now compared to this: knowing you, Jesus, knowing You…
As you can tell from this contemporary song, the morning focused on the cost and value of commitment. Jean Radley’s sermon was memorable. She blended all the scripture readings into a gentle but firm homily on the choices we must make and the challenges we will face as Christians. She treated the scriptures with respect and knowledge, she delivered her well-chosen words with authority, and she did not speak over 15 minutes.
After the formal service and the eucharist, she invited us to sit down again for a presentation from the children. There were five preschool and elementary boys and girls, assisted by three adults. They dramatized the story of Jesus healing blind Bartimaeus. They didn’t do very well; the adult leader pretty much answered her own questions, but you could sense the pleasure that these older members took in having youngsters to dote upon, and the children knew they belonged here.
Then there was yet another postscript. A woman gave us a brief Power Point talk about the work this and sister churches have been doing since a devastating flood hit Kendal in December. The project is called Winter Shelter. She appealed to the church to continue the good work they have been doing since that disaster, providing shelter, meals, and encouragement for the homeless. I have carelessly told people “we’re homeless” as I describe our Next Phase, how
we divested ourselves of house and furnishings and took to the road,
but of course I’ve been playing on that word. This morning the word wasn’t used carelessly. These people are dedicated to serving the real homeless in their community.
So how do I summarize the morning? We want to go back. There is no doubt that St. George’s takes seriously the charge to love the Lord with all your heart and mind and soul and strength—and to love your neighbor as yourself. The mutual love shown in the way the communion elements were taken to parishioners who couldn’t walk to the front to partake and in the smiles on the faces of server and served alike.
After the service we signed up to join the group of elderly taking an outing by coach to Keswick on the 15th. We will fit right in.
One more word. For years as a minister I tried to encourage hospitality, suggesting our members invite visitors home for Sunday meal. A friend of ours always prepares more than enough food for her family, hoping to invite church visitors to join them after church. Today it happened to us, and I realized again what a difference this simple gesture makes. Here we are, strangers in the land, knowing nobody in this town, feeling awkward and unsure of ourselves, and a kind man who has known us all of five minutes invites us to join him and his wife for lunch or supper this week. (She doesn’t know about this invitation yet, but this is obviously a well-practiced routine at their house.) We accepted on the spot.