This last weekend I was in England briefly to visit family, my father being in a nursing home. We went for a wonderful walk along the river Itchen in Hampshire, where my brother tells me fly fishing was born. It was a drop dead gorgeous day and after a super pub lunch we needed a good walk along the river. We spied many trout and a family of swans. Shortly we came upon a small but beautiful church – St. Mary’s, Itchen Stoke, which was declared redundant in 1971 as the parish authorities found they could not afford to keep it open. It is a gem and based upon Sainte Chapelle in Paris, France. These photos do not do justice to its beauty, nor to the sadness that attaches to being declared “redundant.”
The inside of the church was just as wonderful. I wanted to stay, sit and pray as I mourned its redundancy. To be declared redundant is to be declared useless and unnecessary and thus worthless. I mourned the loss of England’s Christian presence, witness and the coming of a society that regards Christians as somehow suspect, or of dubious intellect.
What a contrast was the worship that same morning in the Church of St. Mary Magdalen in Sheet, Hampshire. The service was a celebration of harvest in-gathering and baptism. There were so many differences to what I am used to – no robes, no communion. BUT the church was full, happy and joyful. The people were of all ages and hugely friendly. I was blessed. It was a cross cultural experience. This church is far from redundant! It reminded me that the church is not actually the building but the people. The sadness of the redundant church was that it had no people – they were gone, dead or disinterested. In fact there are some wonderfully alive churches and gatherings of Christian people. However the landscape has changed and to be Christian is decidedly counter cultural. The message of joy, life and spiritual birth/rebirth; the good news of forgiveness, new life and transformation has been removed from mainstream English life as the church has become in the eyes of many simply a cultural relic of Christendom’s past. For me the local church should be a missionary outpost that brings the light of Christ to a lost world. The Christendom attitude has caused the Church to lose its missionary zeal and purpose. Sadly the light has gone out in Stoke Itchen as now this little church is empty. That light is shining bright and bringing in new converts to Christ in Sheet, Hampshire.
Below are some pictures of this joyful celebration – rejoice with me – Jesus is alive!