“You are supposed to go to church on a Sunday it is true but not necessarily fifteen!” So writes ‘Don’ in The Initiate. It wasn’t quite as hectic this Sunday… a mere handful of churches, with a couple of country pubs by way of necessary refreshment. But we found some real gems, and were fortunate enough to meet and speak with some of the people who know and care for these places.
As a rule we prefer to find these little churches open and empty, to be explored with delight in their history and artistry in a spirit of adventure, contemplation and with the quiet reverence that we accord to all sacred places of any path. Yet when you meet with people who know and love them, know their history and beauty and are willing to take time from their day to share their knowledge it somehow brings these places to light and warmth. A church without a congregation is, after all, missing its heart.
Our first stop was a small church with an unusual tower that we had passed on our way to a Silent Eye meeting in Stockport on the Friday. The service had just finished and most people had left, yet we were warmly invited in to see the building. A small, intimate church with a beautifully carved Evangelists pillar by the lectern, glorious abstract windows and an apse over the altar unlike any we have yet seen.
A wonderful lady called Helen, deeply knowledgeable and with her heart deeply entwined with the building, shared her time and told us the story of the unknown Italian, an itinerant artist, who had offered to paint it before moving on. We spoke with the vicar and her husband and agreed to write a piece for the Parish magazine before leaving with a camera full of images and far more knowledge than when we had arrived. They also pointed us in the direction of another church close by with some spectacular windows. The vicar, preparing for a baptism, kindly told us their story.
We had only intended on visiting the one church and another tiny one we had passed… of course, it didn’t work that way. We saw a few more too, spending an hour with the vicar of St Mary’s learning the history of windows and building, and seeing a copy of the famous ‘breeches bible’ in which God creates breeches for Adam…
It is a wonderful thing to see faces light up as they share something they love… no matter whether it be church or chapel, landscape or book… there is something very intimate in the gift of knowledge given from heart to heart. It is as if, at these moments, all barriers come down as with a gentle pride the giver shares a glimpse into their own inner being. At these moments, indeed, it seems as if the kinship we all share comes right to the surface and although you are speaking to a stranger, you are as familiar and close as if you have known each other for years of friendship.
You may get the same feeling of familiarity sometimes with the written word when the writer’s heart is opened with the pages, but nothing quite replaces that shared smile when eye meets eye in a smile of understanding and shared humanity. To be able to share these moments is one of the most beautiful gifts, and runs deep within us… grandmother to granddaughter, mother to son, friends, lovers… or strangers whose paths cross for a momentary magic. To be open to others in this way is to find a doorway to your own inner heart.