Perhaps that should be ‘in the Parish but not of the Parish’.
I and my family have settled into the curate’s house in Royal Wootton Bassett and, since Salisbury Diocese are one of the few dioceses who currently ordain their deacons at Michaelmas, I am the last of my year group without a dog-collar. Despite this, I am licensed to lay ministry in the Parish, and am very much enjoying being part of the church here.
This morning was the fifth Sunday of the month and so there was a Parish Eucharist with the Laying on of Hands… It was the first service of this kind I had been to in an Anglican church, and it was lovely. I was grateful for my years in informal churches so that prayer with the laying on of hands was itself familiar, but I found it so much lovelier this time, as part of a high church Eucharist, than it had ever been at a long, wordy prayer-meeting. And so natural too.
‘Welcome’ is perhaps the word that best describes this incarnational church. People really are welcome. Welcome at God’s table, at coffee, at the altar-rail, in the choir-stalls, to weddings, funerals and baptisms, welcome to the town and to the community. I have no doubt that I see it from a privileged perspective, and that such welcome takes constant work -Loving is not easy, but it is what Christian discipleship is about, but nonetheless there is welcome here.
In fact, I wonder as I type whether it mightn’t be appropriate to translate chesed as this kind of ‘welcome’… chesed (pronounced heh-said), is that great Hebrew word for mercy, loving-kindness, charity, even grace… an almost untranslatable kind of special kindness that loves a stranger as one would love a beloved child, the special loving-kindness attributed to God, and demonstrated in the caring relationship between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi… Love for love’s sake, with a very practical human flavour… it is what human beings are capable of when they are unafraid, hardworking and know that they too are loved, by God.
And it is this welcome of confident loving-kindness, and acceptance of love, that mean that in that main morning service, the Parish Eucharist there were not just four or five bravely waiting at the altar-rail for prayer, but around 25, knowing that God always welcomes them.