When I was a girl, I went to church in an English country parish. An old, flint-built church with stained glass windows, lovingly polished pews, set in a big churchyard where roses grew among the lichened headstones.
We worshipped according to the Book of Common Prayer. Almighty God, unto who all hearts be open and from whom no secrets are hid . . . and Lighten our darkness we beseech thee, O Lord . . . and O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy. . .
The worship was quiet, and had about it a quality of ordinariness that fed my soul. It was, if you see what I mean, no big deal. Nothing was done to make it Fun or to Attract The Young. There were no sound systems, worship bands, brightly coloured banners, news sheets, greeters, videos . . . There was the smell of stone and beeswax, the quietness, the strong stone pillars and the tiled floor, the deep warm brown of the old wood, with the colours of stained glass flowing over as the sun moved round. And the peaceful, hidden gladness of the Mystery.
I loved it, and I think it formed my soul.
My faith journey has wandered a twisting trail since then. I’ve been a Roman Catholic and then a Methodist, been in ordained ministry (Methodist) both as a pastor and a chaplain in school and hospice – and briefly in hospital.
I’ve worshipped with Quakers in silence full of light, and with the highest possible high church Anglicans, with the incense rising through the airy spaces up from among the candles and coloured vestments into the nostrils of God.
I’ve loved it all, but in the last few years I’ve had this longing to come home.
I miss the humble, earthy homeliness of Cranmer’s prayers. I miss the peaceful understatedness of the worship when I was a girl.
What has surprised me, is that the nearest thing to it (for me) is not in the Church of England. Even in Cathedral worship, I feel the tug towards innovation among clergy let loose on the intercessions, and a certain self-conscious almost-snobbishness about The Way We Do Things Here. So much to get right, so much to get wrong, so many rules and permissions, such a thick crust of hierarchy and obstinate tradition. Bit chewy.
But just across the valley from me – the nearest church in fact to my kitchen – a Methodist church (I was once its minister), where by some means (and you can’t do this by trying, it happens all by itself) that humble, earthy homeliness is still there. They sing the old songs, and the Local Preachers who lead worship speak with unaffected homely reverence to a God they obviously believe in.
What surprises me is that in this backwater town the Methodist worship is what captures the humility of Cranmer.
Graft in our hearts the love of thy name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same . . .
Dust in the sunlight.