From the Rector
On a Sunday in mid-July, I was scheduled to be at Temple church for a 3.00pm service of Afternoon Prayer. Temple church is arguably the most scenic and atmospheric of the seven churches in our Camelside Benefice. Most people who see it for the first time are deeply moved by its setting and its air of history and prayerfulness. It’s tucked away in a hollow, not visible from the road that runs through Temple hamlet and from the gate at the top of the churchyard it offers an impressive sight. Temple is what we call a chapel of ease, no longer a parish church in its own right, but actually part of the parish of Blisland. We don’t have services there very often, just six a year in normal times. Residents from nearby, together with one or two members of our other parishes and visitors from further afield, gather to ensure that most acts of worship are well-attended. Because it’s such a small church and quite narrow too, our last two services, for Christmas 2020 and Easter 2021, were held out of doors, which had the added bonus that we were able to sing! There is no electricity supply to Temple church, so on gloomy days we rely on candlelight, which adds an extra layer of mystery.
On this particular Sunday in July, I was not optimistic about having many people in the congregation. People are still naturally quite edgy about attending services in smaller churches, in the light of continuing infections; I already knew that two very supportive families were away that weekend; and the weather was even more foul than the forecast had suggested, with gusty winds, frequent rain showers and fading light by mid-afternoon, even in the depths of so-called summer. When I arrived, twenty minutes early, I was on my own. Undeterred, I lit as many candles as I could find, set up my books and sat quietly, enjoying the peace. Over the next ten minutes, two other parishioners arrived individually, and that was our congregation, just the three of us. One might have expected this to have been a rather dispiriting experience for me. I might have been tempted to wonder whether my time had been well-spent, given that it is a journey of almost half an hour in each direction. But not a bit of it. We sat, the three of us, absorbing the peace, stillness and beauty of the space; we said Afternoon Prayer together, read the Scriptures, offered prayers for those who were away, and others we knew who were having a tough time; we left long spaces between each item for our own thoughts and prayers; and when it came to an end, we just knew that we had shared something very special together. They were so grateful that I had come and I so valued their dedication and support.
Often shafts of truth and insight come in the small, understated moments, in the little encounters where the light shines through the gaps. It’s not always in the grand statement that God makes himself known to us, but, like Elijah on the mountain top, it can be in the still, small voice that we realise God has come near.