Let me tell you a little of what I’ve learned about church.
Ten years ago we moved to the country. We moved from a large suburban evangelical church of which I was Churchwarden and where everyone was a real friend.
There was a major culture shock on arriving at the pretty village church on the hill. It had recently been threatened with closure but a few loyal locals had fundraised to mend the roof, and resurrect it. It can be described as “broad church”. The recently gathered, sparse, elderly congregation didn’t seem to know quite what ‘broad church’ meant and they complained vociferously if the service that week wasn’t exactly to their taste. Oh, and there were no toilets available, only the idyllic graveyard.
I found everything cold and discordant. I was accused by a vicar’s wife of being “an evangelical”, like it was some sort of unmentionable disease, apparently due to a “misguided upbringing” which puzzled me quite a bit, and I responded with 4 sides of A4 about Christian love! My attempts to support the few brave parents and young children drew to a halt, when the table I had set up for children’s activities was cleared away and, in its place, there was jam for sale. Hallo God, what do you want me to do here?
My rebellious spirit took over. With the very active ‘Christians Together in…….’ group, I helped to paint 2 classrooms in the local primary school, which introduced me to Christians from other churches. I now help run a lunchtime Bible club at the same school. I became a rent-a- gran at the town church on Tuesdays, entertaining small children while their mums enjoy an hour’s Bible Study and discussion.
I joined a weekly home group of ladies from the town church. We meet in a home with a welcoming fire in the grate, and coffee in the cafetiere. They have become my church, my place of worship, and my kindred spirits, my sisters in Christ, who care for each other in the name of Jesus, and for that I give thanks. I love Thursdays.
But back to the pretty village church.
One day someone found the key to the previously neglected church bell tower, and a small group of us spent a happy day clearing jackdaw’s nests from around the 8 bells. New ropes were purchased and slowly we learnt to ring, swotting away the vicious resident ladybirds as we sweated. This was a major challenge for us all but we became a “team”. On one occasion I missed the swaying rope, fell backwards over the rotting carpet and the rope sliced across my throat removing a long strip of skin. I came to dread ringing night until one day we were deemed fit to ring for a wedding and managed to ring well for half an hour! Success! It took time but with work we came together to produce a feasible noise! I no longer ring due to back problems but the sound of the bells resounding across the fields, especially on a frosty morning, is magical!
I volunteered, with some misgivings, to organise a small choir for Christmas. The singers were inexperienced, I had not directed a choir before, my piano playing was rusty and the only resource was a cupboard full of moth-eaten choir robes. We staggered through Christmas and I emailed choir members afterwards, hoping they wouldn’t want to carry on. They all replied “Yes we do! When do we start?” Others joined, and now we are 11. We have hymnbooks, smart folders for music and cushions in the choir pews. They loyally ignore my Les Dawson style and sing with gusto.
We are blessed with oversight by the energetic Rector of the big evangelical church in our market town. Services have settled down with a rota of sympathetic and talented clergy including the retired Head of Religious Broadcasting for the BBC, a retired university lecturer and a rota of lay service leaders. As an experiment, we have evening services too, and the response locally has been enthusiastic .We have a well equipped kitchen and toilets but the heating still needs a revamp. The congregation has doubled to a regular 50-60. I occasionally organise a Songs of Praise service where members of the congregation choose the hymns and give a talk about their choice. It has helped them to get to know each other. I also produce a weekly news sheet, so that everyone knows what’s going on and is encouraged to join in.
It takes a while for a church to start from nothing to sing in harmony and become a proper church family! You can’t move to a new place and expect to be instantly feel at home at the local church. Things won’t always be your taste but with a little perseverance, something quite special can come about.
It is not always plain sailing and I admit I do slip off to the vibrant town church when I can. But I now, on a Sunday, go happily and confidently to meet God with my church family in my pretty church on the hill.
MAVIS HUGHESDON: Mavis is married to John and is mother of 2 grown up children, and is a proud grandma of big blonde grandson age 3. She is a Retired President of the Girls Brigade England and Wales. She’s also a Retired Chair of the British Red Cross London Volunteer’s Council.