I can recall a visit that my family and I made to Chester Zoo when I was a boy of about 4 or 5 years of age. On the day in question the zoo was packed with people as the day was very sunny and boiling hot. And so it was that I ended up in one of many huge crowds; in this case watching a poor camel being dragged out of a ditch that it had fallen into by some zookeepers. As it turns out I was so engrossed in the plight of this poor hump backed mammal that I did not hear my mother telling me that we needed to move on and so I stood there watching with great interest, with a group of people I assumed to be my family, when in fact my real kith and kin were wandering off. Of course, after another 10 minutes when the ship of the desert had been finally hauled back to its feet, I looked around to discover the woman I was next to was not my mum, nor indeed was the gangly youth on the other side my big brother Chris. And yes, I did panic. But thankfully so did my parents, who were delighted to find me 5 minutes later at the same spot they had left me behind by accident. And there was relief all round.
As a minister I am of course, always trying to fashion my life on Christ – and as it turns out this story from my youth is one that shares much with a story from the childhood of Jesus. You may recall the tale of when Jesus aged 12 went to Jerusalem with Mary and Joseph, his parents, to celebrate the festival of the Passover. This visit was followed by a similar parenting mishap to the one that befell me; for Mary and Joseph left for home, only to discover that Jesus was not with them. Luckily, as for my parents, when they hastily retraced their steps they found Jesus in a place that they had just left, namely the Temple in Jerusalem. And upon being found Jesus uttered a most wonderful rebuke to His scolding parents: “why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
As a Vicar, or indeed as anyone who is a follower of Jesus, fashioning our lives on Christ is not necessarily about literally getting ourselves into situations that He Himself faced in His life. I, for example, am no closer to God because I, like His Son Jesus, found myself missing from my parents when a boy as I described earlier. However, in the story of the boy Jesus in the Temple, there is revealed an important way that we can move closer to God, and Jesus. And this is through doing what Jesus makes clear comes naturally for Him, namely being in His Father’s house.
For us who live in the parish of Burnopfield and Dipton this means St James’ Church in the village. One of the great privileges of being a Vicar is the large amount of time that you get to spend in your church buildings. For yes, whilst in many ways they are “just” bricks and mortar, for me a church has an innate sense of peace and holiness such that they are places that allow you to come closer to God just by being in them. And it can feel very much like, as Jesus suggested, His Father’s house – a place where you can feel welcome and togetherness. In other words where you can feel part of a family, accepted and loved by others for who you are, and joined with them in mutual love and respect. And this can be true not least perhaps at times when like Jesus, and like me as a child in the story I began with, we find ourselves lost.
Family feeling or not though, a church is a place where you can come closer to God, either alone or together. But what I do know sometimes gets in the way is the opportunity to come into church. Service times on Sunday or during the week just may not fit for whatever reason – work, or other commitments – and what hinders us then is that perhaps the church is not open at those times when we want to or could head to it to spend time with God, in His house. And so during October and November we want to offer another opportunity for people to spend time in our lovely and peaceful church. Every Wednesday between 2 o’clock and 3 o’clock, beginning on the 3rd of October St James Church will be open. This could be for prayer – to come to speak to and listen to God. Or it could be for quiet, to find an oasis of calm away from the hustle and bustle of the world outside. It could be to remember – to light a candle for a loved one departed. Or it may just be for interest or stimulation, a chance to look at the windows or other aspects of the beautiful building that is St James’ Church. The point is that this is an added opportunity for anyone who wants it, to simply be in Our Father’s house.
Sometimes we all find ourselves lost, sometimes we want and need the support of a family, sometimes we just need the chance to sit quietly in a welcoming house or place – I know that I do. So why not join me if you are able?
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze