These six parishes in the Shingay Group have been without a full-time vicar for nearly a year now and during that time there has been a great deal of thought and discussion about how we would like to go forward. It can be revealing to compare and contrast other churches and congregations visited in the past to see if lessons can be learnt from them.
I remember a group of villages in West Africa where there was a large church, which every Sunday was full of the local people of all ages, babes in arms and toddlers fidgeting, the rich and the poor, all mixed together. The girls from the local grammar school would walk there in a long crocodile, wearing their beautiful blue Sunday lappas (a bit like a sari). Many a time the congregation would recognise the reading and would join in. Hymns were sung musically and with gusto. Because the tropical heat was so humid, all doors and windows were open and goats and chickens would wander through, all members of God’s creation sharing an experience of joy.
Later, on a university campus, where the local people were mostly Muslim, things were very different. Church services were held in a hut just like the Tabernacle at Shingay – just large enough for local Christians and the university staff. We had readings, prayers, hymns and sermons, but no gusto here nor any children. Things were more subdued with hardly any mingling between the communities.
More recently, I have been to services at three local chapels, and have been impressed by their warmth, friendliness and deep faith. No two churches are the same, and no congregation is perfect, but it is good to try to emulate positive points we see elsewhere. The hope in these six parishes is that the new vicar will help us to be welcoming and friendly, encourage parents and children to join us at services, be concerned for and visible in our local communities, and lead services that help us to “be still in the presence of the Lord” and joyful.
Can one person ever be a mixture of Peter, Paul, all the apostles plus the Marys? It is, actually, a challenge for all of us.
Mrs Cicely Murfitt
Shingay Group of Churches