This morning I have taken my office outside and am working from the Butterfly Garden in New Waltham. This is one of the many surprises of the past week. The villages are lovley. Waltham itself (village? town?) is gently busy and bright. New Waltham is the least likely place to seek quiet. It is on the edge of Cleethorpes, and much more suburban. But someone here understands sacred space, and there is a well crafted garden slowly growing into a sanctuary.
My first impressions of Lincolnshire led to thoughts of Oz. But there is no ambiguity now: this is England.
In the week before my institution, the community police officer dropped by to say hello; the local take away hand delivered a menu (probably on the rumour that my cooker had not arrived); the local papers had articles welcoming me, and apparently I was the talk of the town, from hairdresser, to news agents, to pub.
I kept my head down till the licensing, and people were remarkably respectful of that. But as soon as I went out in my dog-collar, the energy was released: people wave from their cars as they pass; I get stopped in the street; there is a growing list of people and places where I am supposed to drop in because they want to meet the new ‘vicar’.
Learning what it means to be the parish priest will not be a problem. I have four villages and two small towns ready and eager to teach me.
For the first week, I spent most of my time going around the churches: tea, chat and worship, in half-day blocks. It was good to meet people in their own environment, and to begin to realise how different these churches are. In one village, I was introduced to The Protestant Reformation Society. Remember them? I thought they’d passed out of existence a century ago, but apparently, the issues are still live. The 39 articles are firmly defended. Surplice and stole are the norm. Opinions vary widely in the congregations, but everyone knows that Calvin and Cramner are never far away.
On the other hand, I found a pink chasuble in one of the churches last night. Glory be.
What strikes me is this: there are a huge number of people here who are deeply committed to the churches. Some of those people would never dream of worshipping, and would find it mildly surprising to think that might be what church was about. And yet, they organise rotas to mow the graveyard. They swoop in to clean the church and dress it in fairy lights for fundraising dinners. They come when the new priest says ‘I’ll be in the church’ and they ask about weddings and blessings and prayer.
The nature of worship is sometimes ambiguous but the role of prayer is not. More people have spoken to me about prayer in the past week than in most years of parish ministry.
So that’s where we’ll start: with prayer. And with cleaning the sacristies — and the fonts and altars too.