Friday, June 22, 2012

No Hassle in Hessle

All Saints (Anglican) Church not only stands in the center of this pleasant East Yorkshire village, a short drive from the port city of Hull,-- it quite literally defines the town. Listed in the Doomsday Book, All Saints has served the faithful for more than a millennium—and continues to do so to this day. Its impressive stone spire notwithstanding, it is a rather simple structure, outside and in. In the course of its long reign, it has retained its integrity in spite of a number of major renovations over the ages, including a significant enlargement of the worship space in the nineteenth century as well as liturgically-motivated alterations in the twentieth. Simply, austere, yet also welcoming (embroidered cushion/ kneelers add a touch of warmth to the nave)—it serves contemporary worshipers as well as it did their ancestors. A contemporary, handpainted San Damiano cross hangs over the sanctuary, so friends of St. Francis should felt quite at home. The day I was visiting, the vicar, Father Tim Boynes and his wife, Georginai, showed my friend Tom and me around the place. I noticed there was a small group of about a dozen people arranging chairs in a wide circle in the area before the main altar and asked if we might join them. “Oh, that’s our Wednesday morning Open Door prayer group,” he told me. “They’re doing Celtic prayer.” Great. We walked around, introduced ourselves to the folks present— a nice mixture of young and older people alike, and even a little girl dancing about quite happy and content, her dad nearby. And so we prayed. The entire session was organized and led by lay members of the parish. The leader, Anne Robinson, gave an excellent Scripture reflection, and the rest of the group entered enthusiastically into the spirit of song and intercession— voicing candidly and easily the needs of their families and friends and of the world. By the end of a half-hour, the service concluded—short and sweet—and we all moved next door to the parish hall for fellowship-- steamy cups of coffee and tea and slices of cake. There we were joined by still more folks from the parish and town who happened to drop in. It was all very quite, simple, down to earth and solid. Normal. No big deal. Very low key. But in another way, it seemed to me a very big deal indeed. There was a sense here of a solid, engaged, and vibrant faith community, united in worship, fellowship, and service without making a big deal out of it. Parishioners, I was told, were involved in a great many service projects throughout the community at large. Sunday liturgies can bring up to 150 people; Wednesday mornings were a way for several of them to reconnect during the week. A great deal of recent media attention has been focused on the struggles within the Anglican Communion internationally. But in this totally ordinary and quite unpretentious village parish at least, the Spirit appears to be quite alive and well. After more than a thousand years (!) , All Saints continues to serve its people as an active, faith-filled community in witness to the Gospel in very simple and down to earth ways. There’s no big hassle in Hessle.

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