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Faith Comment published in the Petersfield Post

9 October 2019: Rev'd John Owen, Vicar of Steep and Froxfield with Privett

Rev'd John Owen - Vicar of Steep and Froxfield with PrivettQuiet Places

We have all agreed that the miscellaneous notices, pamphlets and leaflets in our country church don’t create a good impression to the visitor. They look scruffy and disorganised and their tatty corners don’t inspire confidence.

So we started to think of neater ways of displaying them - on shelves, perhaps or in a notice board with pockets. The more we talked, the more we noticed the sheer quantity of printed stuff which the church porch already contains. Why not, said somebody, work out the main message that you want to convey to the church visitor, and then you’ll know what to display.

We realised that people come to old country churches for many different reasons: to soak themselves in a bit of history, or to sit quietly in a holy space which has been used for prayer and worship for many centuries; even perhaps to visit a building that isn’t a commercial place for buying and selling.

R S Thomas the poet priest wrote a short poem about a church visitor:

In a Country Church

To one kneeling down no word came,
Only the wind' s song, saddening the lips
Of the grave saints, rigid in glass;
Or the dry whisper of unseen wings,
Bats not angels, in the high roof.

Was he balked by silence? He kneeled long
And saw love in a dark crown
Of thorns blazing, and a winter tree
Golden with fruit of a man's body.

As he kneeled, he ‘saw love in a dark crown’. Perhaps what visitors really want and need from a church is an experience which helps them make sense of their experiences: a bit of quietness and contemplation.

Perhaps that’s the message we need to convey to our visitors - that the church is open for prayer, quiet and peace.

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