|An altar in Holy Trinity, Loddon|
In Baroness Emma Orczy's novel The Elusive Pimpernel, Chauvelin, the former French Ambassador to England, tricks Sir Percy Blakeney and his wife Marguerite into traveling to Boulogne, a small coastal town in northern France. When Chauvelin captures Marguerite, he forces Sir Percy to write a letter explaining that all his brave exploits in rescuing the French aristocracy from the guillotine were really only done for money. Yet, when Chauvelin writes to his superiors in Paris, telling them of his triumph, Robespierre and his fellow reformers grow annoyed with Chauvelin. They wonder if he has fully embraced their Republican ideals, as he has dated his letter as (I believe, September), instead of Fructidor, a month in the newly imposed French Republican Calendar.
In order to celebrate his triumph, Chauvelin then organizes a celebration in Boulogne. As a condition of Sir Percy finishing the letter on this day, Chauvelin agrees to ring the church bells as part of an evening service. So while the townspeople rejoice with forced gaiety, and herald an actress attired as the newly created French goddess of Reason, Sir Percy manages another stunning escape. In the process, he takes with him the incriminating letter and his wife Marguerite. He leaves Chauvelin tied up in the prison, where the former ambassador hears the old church bells ring.
|A painted wooden screen in Holy Trinity|
Like any Church of England, Holy Trinity Church in Loddon is steeped in centuries of history. Yet the townspeople only worship there from May to November. For the rest of the year, they worship in St. John's Methodist Church.
After visiting Holy Trinity Church (and enjoying their fine book sale), my wife and I visited St. John's in Loddon. Unlike many Methodist churches we have visited in the United States, which could easily rival an ornate Lutheran or Episcopal church, the sanctuary of St. John in Loddon was barren. No ornamentation, no carvings, no burial or memorial markers. Just a hall with a modern interior of bare walls, windows, and a platform.
Most Protestants in the United States are used to worshipping in such sparse surroundings. But I was intrigued why a Church of English congregation would trade a sanctuary so rich in history and beautiful for one so barren for six months of the year. I asked a man working in the St. John Methodist church office why the two churches had decided to share everything, from their worship service location to (presumably) the style of the services themselves. He explained that, as it was a small town, they had merged the congregations for two reasons: 1) to enhance the worship experience by increasing the size of the congregation, and 2) so the Holy Trinity members could save money. Apparently, it much more to heat the immense stone Holy Trinity building in the winter than it did the smaller, better insulated St. John.
The Methodists broke away from the Church of England in earlier centuries for profound religious reasons. When worshippers have a choice of congregations, they usually chose the one which best conforms to their religious beliefs. Yet the people of Loddon have chosen to say, "Our beliefs don't matter so much as the fact that we worship and fellowship together."
A community where the people's faith unites them, rather than divides them? Imagine that.