Our church buildings are our treasure . . . .
May sees the annual ‘Feast of Consecration’ of our cathedral. Some churches know exactly on which date the church building was consecrated or ‘set apart’ by the bishop, for the worship of God. At Tewkesbury Abbey, where I used to minister, we know that the church was consecrated on 23 October 1121, in the presence of a large number of clergy and bishops, including the then bishop of Hereford, Richard de Capella.
Churches built since the Reformation generally know the date on which they were dedicated or consecrated. Hereford Cathedral doesn’t know the exact year, but from time immemorial, the feast has been kept on or around 11 May and this year, we shall celebrate on 7 May, with an Orchestral Eucharist in the morning and Evensong to which we shall invite members of the Hereford Deanery. For those churches who have no idea when they were consecrated, the first Sunday in October is the date recommended in the calendar. If this isn’t in your calendar, do consider including it - it’s a wonderful way of giving thanks for these, our great treasures, which mean so much to us.
Why do we give thanks for our church buildings in such a way? I think we recognise them as places where generations have glimpsed God - where our forebears have been baptized, married, buried and where the ‘sacrifice of praise’ has been offered up faithfully. The walls of our churches are literally ‘soaked’ with prayer and this makes them ‘thin’ places, where the pavement between heaven and earth is very slender. No wonder people fight for their church buildings - because they speak of the things of the spirit that we so need in our world today.
I like to see all our church buildings - however small - however humble - as places of pilgrimage. Each of us can do this - either in a group or as individuals.
We can walk, or look around the church and use each of its parts or furnishings to inspire us to prayer:
Why not spend a little time in your own church soon - consecrating yourself afresh to God’s service and going on your own spiritual pilgrimage?
I love this prayer by the 17th century bishop, Thomas Ken:
O God, make the door of this church wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship, and a heavenly Father's care; and narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and hate. Make its threshold smooth enough to be no stumbling block to children, nor to straying feet, but rugged enough to turn back the tempter's power: make it a gateway to thine eternal kingdom.
A letter from the Dean of Hereford