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Thursday, December 12, 2013

St. Laurence in Falmer

According to Wikipedia, that online fount of knowledge, St Lawrence served as a Deacon under Pope Sixtus II in the third century.  During a period of Roman persecution, Sixtus was executed, and St. Lawrence given three days to gather all the riches of the Church and hand them over to the government.  Instead, the Deacon dispensed all the Church's material wealth to the poor, and then presented these needy folks to the local prefect as the wealth of the Church.

The Prefect, and Emperor Valerian, were not amused.  

St. Laurence welcomes us to his church.

Because of his actions, St. Lawrence suffered a martyr's death in the year 258.  Despite the different spelling of the name, I assume this is the saint whom St. Laurence in Falmer honors.  

No one met me in the narthex, but when I walked into the sanctuary, I found a man with a clerical collar bustling about.  When I told him we were sorry we had missed the service, this confused him.  I explained that the midweek service time posted on the notice board stated 9:30 a.m., not 11:30 as we had seen on various online sources.  He shook his head.  "That can't be right," he said, then assured me that the service would commence in a few minutes.  Then he left to put on his liturgical robes for the service.  

My wife selected a pew, and I took this quiet time, before anyone else arrived, to take a few photographs.

The Priest's view of his congregation
 and the church organ.

When he returned, his arms full of altar guild necessities, he explained that the congregation sat in the choir loft for the smaller, midweek services.  We moved camp to oblige.

When 11:30 a.m. had come and gone, the priest decided that his eight or ten regulars wouldn't be coming today, and started the service.  The liturgy was similar than the one used in Episcopal church in the United States, but the priest seemed understanding when we fumbled our responses.  At certain points, he kindly gave us instructions, which we found helpful in following along.  

A beautiful royal crest hangs below the organ pipes.

After the service, we spoke with him for a few minutes.  He politely asked where we were from, and which areas of England we were visiting.  He explained that the congregation wasn't big enough to merit a full time pastor, and thus eighty percent of his time was devoted to the nearby university, where he was an instructor, and also as a chaplain.  When I asked if the students frequently sought his counsel, he shook his head.  He said that England was a largely secular country these days, and that the media had an anti-religion bias.  As such, young people tended to view churches as relics of the past, categorizing them as they would museums.  

While we enjoyed talking to him, it quickly grew obvious that he wished to get on with his day.  So we thanked him again for leading the service, and bid him good-bye.

Watching British TV shows, reading stories by English writers, and making a few short visits to the country hardly makes me an expert on what makes their society function, but one thing bothered me as we left St. Laurence.  Perhaps it was an oversight on his part.  Perhaps he's just more naturally reserved than most Americans.  Still, as I told him, we had set aside a day of our vacation to visit his church.  You would think that, at the very least, he would introduce himself to us, and ask us our names.  Yet he never did. 

Perhaps he's wrong about English society.  Perhaps the Church of England will grow more relevant to the up-and-coming generation.  But I have to wonder.  Unless you show people you care about them, and that they really matter to you, how can you make them believe in a God that they cannot see, and convince them that He cares for them?  A fundamental part of making others feel special, important, and treasured, is learning their names.  Unless you're willing to overcome that basic reticence, and committed to breaking down the barriers between yourself and others, you're just another social worker or instructor.  And the church in which you worship, in which people may have worshipped for hundreds or even thousands of years?  It's just an old building.

Dragon Dave

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