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Established 1999
A Wesleyan-Anglican Church in Boise, Idaho

Pilgrimages

An English Pilgrimage

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Entry 20, Sunday, Fourth Week of Advent/First Week of Christmas:
A Cotswolds Village: Why Bother?

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
- 1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)

In a Cotswolds village, our party concludes Advent with our own service of morning prayers, using John Wesley's Order for Morning Prayer. In this instance it is a service without music, not because that's better but because of our lack of musical resources.

At 11:00 p.m. we walk in the virtually total darkness of the Cotswolds, except for our flashlights, the half mile or so to the village's parish church. As we do so, we hear the change-ringing of the church bells, as they joyously peal the arrival of Christmas with the 11:30 p.m. service. When we enter the church gate, we walk the lengthy hard-surfaced path, dimly but invitingly lit by kerosene torches standing about five feet high along the path. When the church comes into view, we see that its exterior is bathed in floodlight, its entry porch is lit on either side with candles, and its windows cast a glow from candles lit within the sanctuary.

As we enter, we're each given a small lit candle to take to our seat, and we see the six bell ringers at the back, as they continue to peal the bells in complicated sequences. Their ringing is very well done.

Electric heaters in the center aisle provide the only heat source other than the candles. I am surprised that on a high feast day such as Christmas the chandelier lights are off, and that they remain off throughout. It seems to me that the choice of lighting only by candlelight is apparently from preference for a sort of romantic, good-old-days feel, and in complete disregard for the feast day that it is. Amazingly, even the high altar is left in semi-darkness.

The service is well-attended, apparently by more people than reside in the village. Many seem to be in family groups, no doubt including some who have come home for the holiday.

Cotswold villagers
Cotswold villagers

The sermon is awful: a terrible disservice to the people. The priest says his message is that at this time of the year we should be a little more kind to each other. He says he looked through the Bible to find something about kindness, but couldn't. He says that if he were to urge a complete change of direction for us, that would not be attainable, and would lead to failure on our part. He says, though, that it is attainable, for us to try to be just a little kinder.

There is no mention whatever of God's grace! There is no suggestion that we pray for God's help! There is no hint that God's grace can transform those who are willing! There is no disclosure why the Christ child has any relevance other than some general notion of goodwill!

As a result, there is no reason given why these people-some of whom, probably, attend at no other time of the year-should ever come back.

All of that is surprising for its being so blatant, but there's more. The priest proceeds to Communion and in doing so treats the Communion elements with what appears to be uncaring disrespect. Then the Communion is served coldly, in darkness, and the people are dismissed, to depart with no more light than that which they brought with them.

What can seem to be insignificant decisions can be merely the outward evidence of real inner loss. In this instance, the choice to have physically darkened worship shows a loss of memory about liturgical meanings, but even more it shows a lack of joy and of an awareness of God's intersection with human life. The physical darkness bespeaks a spiritual darkness.

This isn't merely losing parishioners; this is driving them away.

"God of grace and God of glory,
on your people pour your power;
crown your ancient church's story;
bring its bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
for the facing of this hour.

"Cure your children's warring madness,
bend our pride to your control;
shame our wanton, selfish gladness,
rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
lest we miss your kingdom's goal."
- verses 1, 3, "God of Grace and God of Glory", Harry Emerson Fosdick, 1930

- Christopher

Theme Verse

Luke 1:78-79

Scripture Lessons

Aug 20: Isaiah 56:1-7, Psalm 67, Romans 11:13-15, 29-32, Matthew 15:21-28

Aug 18: Isaiah 51:1-6, Psalm 138, Romans 11:33-36, Matthew 16:13-20

Prayer Emphases

Nation: Senegal

Denomination: International Foursquare Gospel Churches

Congregation: Robertson-Wesley United Church, Edmonton, AB, and the Rev. Leigh Sinclair

Ministry: CURE International

Parishioners: Those living on Bruins Circle

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