Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
There was not a cloud in the sky on that beautiful bright sunny Sunday morning as I walked up the path from the car park to the North entrance of St Mary Magdalene, a church I had never attended before. It stands on one of the earliest sites of Christian worship in the county since St Cedd erected a preaching cross here. A wooden church was built in the seventh century, but the present building dates substantially from the 12th century. Its importance to the community is illustrated by the records and artefacts it holds. For example, it houses a 12th century oak Crusader chest, whilst church registers tell of the burning at the stake, in the nearby county town, of a local man and the marriage of Christopher Martin, who sailed to America on the Mayflower, whilst the Churchyard contains some early 17th century headstones and an ancient yew tree.
The birds were singing in the trees in the churchyard as I walked, the sun casting dappled shadows beneath my feet. It seemed as if just stepping into the church grounds I was surrounded by an aura of peace, away from the bustle of the outside world just a few yards away that had not yet properly woken up. On entering the church that feeling of peace was all encompassing. ‘Welcome home’, it seemed to say, ‘I AM so pleased to see you’. The early morning sun streamed its bright shafts of light through the richly stained glass of the East Window lighting up the whole church, as the candles were lit on the altar for the 8am Mass conducted following the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer. St Mary Magdalene aspires to be an Anglo-catholic loving and prayerful church community – which it certainly is. The quiet simple service was conducted with dignity and sincerity by young Father Michael who spoke on the parable of the lost sheep. No doubt for centuries many lost sheep of the world have found the safe and welcoming embrace of God here. Indeed, there could be no doubt in my mind that Jesus was present for us all in the Eucharist that morning.
For fourteen centuries the church has stood on that hill, a beacon of hope proclaiming the Christian faith to all; visible not only to the local community but to passing travellers for miles around. A safe haven and an unchanging presence in an ever changing world, offering God’s invitation and words of welcome: Come unto me all ye who travail and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 KJV. I am reminded of words found in the breviary of St Teresa of Avila after her death:
Let nothing disturb thee,
Nothing affright thee
All things are passing;
God never changeth;
Attaineth to all things;
Who God possesseth
In nothing is wanting;
Alone God sufficeth.
The only possible response must be one of gratitude: Deo gratias – Thanks be to God.
I am an Authorised Local Preacher in an Anglo Catholic parish church, in the Diocese of Essex UK