Everyday through the week: we will continue to offer Morning Prayer at 9am and Evening Prayer at 6pm streamed on facebook.com/parishesbythewall
Our Churches will be open for private prayer on:
- Wednesday 22 July 2pm-4pm St Cuthbert’s, Haydon Bridge
Next Sunday we will worship at:
- 9am: Morning Prayer with Hymns and Reflection streamed on facebook.com/parishesbythewall
- From 10am till 12noon: Private Prayer All Hallows' Henshaw
- 10.30am: Benefice Morning Worship at St Cuthbert's Haydon Bridge: It will help our planning if you could contact the Church Wardens (Dave Thornhill: 07810 336537 or Gill Valentine:07711 110850) if you intend to attend.
For more information on our plans for the coming times please see this letter on our website.
Genesis 28: 10-19a
acob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.
The social media platform Twitter is a remarkable thing. Unlike Facebook, Twitter allows the almost limitless engagement between its users. Using messages of a limited number of characters it is possible to send a message to The Queen or the President of the United States or if you really want to, to your Vicar. They might not, in fact some almost certainly won’t, reply (but I promise I will!). However, this basic fact points to the democratising nature of Twitter: to a lesser or greater extent it means that anyone’s voice can be heard.
For this reason, Twitter is a place full of what Sir Humphrey Appleby would have described as a “frank exchanges of views”. This can be on a multitude of subjects and the life of the Church of England is not immune from this. Over the last few months debate, discussion, and disagreement over the approach of the Church to this crisis has raged. Nowhere more so than the decision of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to close all our church buildings not only for public worship following government order, but also for the private prayer of priests and incumbents.
It is not my intention to rehearse all the arguments of this debate again in this reflection, but rather to think a little on what this debate says to us about the place of our buildings and our need for sacred space within the worshipping life of the church. For some in the Twitter debate the closure of buildings was an acknowledgement that our buildings are an encumbrance to our life of faith. “The people are the church, not the buildings” some would cry. In opposition others would speak about the deep and enduring value of church buildings as, to quote Jacob’s words at Bethel “the house and gate of heaven”. As one rather vigorous devotee of Twitter exclaimed with exasperation: “after all this is done, we need to have a real debate about sacred space”.
The problem of this debate being played out on Twitter is that it is not a place for nuance. You are limited to 280 characters per message or tweet and so there is a tendency to be placed in either one position or another. Either you think the church is the people or the building. Either you think sacred space is found in our temples of stone or it isn’t. And so on.
The limitations of Twitter, along with the tenacity of some of its most enthusiastic users, made this a tedious and repetitious debate. But the form of Twitter also allowed something else to happen. The equalising nature of Twitter meant that voices we have often missed in the life of the church – particularly of the marginalised and disabled – were heard for the first time with great clarity.
Whilst some were lamenting the church’s seeming rejection of our buildings as sacred spaces others, who for generations had not been able to use our church buildings, because accessibility wasn’t high on the agenda for medieval stone masons, gave a different voice. Sacred space they argued should not be limited to our church buildings. For these communities of Christians sacred space has been found in online forums and gatherings and homes. As we were all unable to gather in our buildings and finding ways of worshipping online and in our homes, we were not finding a new form of sacred space. Rather, these voices on Twitter were reminding us that we were discovering the sacred spaces that they had been gathering in already for years.
If we are to have a debate as a church on what we mean by sacred space we need to find a way of moving beyond our assumptions of what sacred space is or should be. In these Parishes by the Wall this is something that we have been doing for some time through God’s Tent.
One of the gifts of God’s Tent is that it compels us into the landscape we live in. This landscape is though not a neutral one, but one infused with the history of Christian witness in these places. We have in our benefice two ancient churches of St Cuthbert, two ancient sacred spaces created by the heritage of Cuthbert and his community, and we continue to rejoice in the gift we have in St Cuthbert’s Beltingham and Haydon Old Church.
But when we pitch God’s Tent, we find that God is also present in this landscape not just in those ancient buildings and loved sacred spaces which we recognise as “the house and gate of heaven”. In God’s Tent we find sacred space in the familiarity of much-loved woods or river banks. As we pitch God’s Tent for worship the words of Jacob ring in my ears: “surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”
Our experience of God’s Tent has for me mirrored our experience of worship online and in our homes over these last few months. God’s Tent is not a replacement for our buildings, but another articulation of what those buildings speak of so articulately. That to a forgetful world, the Lord is truly in this place, and we did not know it.
As we return to our buildings for worship, we need to keep our eyes and hearts open to this truth. That God is not simply in the places we expect God to be, but like Jacob in his dream, God reveals himself to us in a multitude of unexpected and glorious ways.
In returning to our buildings we need to make sure that we do not accidentally give the impression that this the only or preferred sacred space given to us.
For some time, many in our community will not be able or willing to leave their homes, and we need to continue to find with each other sacred spaces to worship and pray together. As we continue to live through this crisis, we need to hold open all the sacred spaces God has given us to find him in: in our buildings, online, in our homes, and beyond. Because the promise God reveals to Jacob, he continues to reveal to us. And like Jacob, all we need to do is find with fresh eyes all the ways God is in these places when we did not know it.
Questions for reflection through the week
- What sacred spaces have you missed during this time?
- What sacred spaces have you find in this time?
- How might we continues to find these spaces together?
Collect for Sixth Sunday of Trinity
you made us all in your image:
may we discern you in all that we see,
and serve you in all that we do;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Please keep in your prayers: Those in need… Lesley Towers, Dorothy Hartley, Sheila Spence, Margaret McAllister, Allan Munns.
Those who have died….Barry Chambers