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Hallo again to all.

Today we attended church a long way from home. We found its location on a map, plotted a walking path, decided not to bring an umbrella, and set out through the central shopping district of this large and cosmopolitan metropolis. The streets were noisy, crowded, and unwelcoming, consummately urban. A burglar-alarm bell was ringing off to the north and a man with a megaphone was shouting at people off to the south to give their lives to Jesus. Neither the burglar alarm nor the megaphone evangelist had any effect.

We found the church an hour before the service began and entered its small but inviting forecourt. Sitting on a bench partly hidden behind an enormous fuchsia plant, we watched people come and go, and smiled and greeted those who noticed us. Our ears took in an odd mixture of traffic, birds, and choir rehearsal. The teak bench was at the boundary between two worlds, between street and sanctuary, between sacred and profane. Looking sharply up at the Victorian steeple, everything in our sight was built for Christian worship. Looking any direction but up, we saw a Victorian church encased in a bustling city, like an insect in amber. Our first reaction was to lament the isolation of the church from its surroundings, to feel that perhaps in being so separate, it was less consequential.

But then we thought some more. The very word 'sanctuary' means both 'the holiest place in a church' and 'a place to take refuge from the world'. Whilst the second meaning derived from the first after a few centuries, the record of written language shows us that at least since the time of Chaucer, people have turned to churches as a way of escaping the world round them. For a thousand years, churches have played a role in their host society as a refuge, a sanctuary -- whether for an hour at lunchtime or for years to avoid prosecution. As part of its purpose, a church must be somewhat separate from the world that contains it.

The world of this morning's service was to our liking, though much more Anglo-Catholic than our home parish. The choir sung Mozart's entire Credo mass over the course of the two hours, in Latin. The celebrant chanted the Gospel, the thurifer left clouds of holy smoke all over the sanctuary, and we said the Angelus after the last hymn. As we walked out for coffee -- served outdoors since the weather was good -- we realised that this liturgy would no doubt be considered heretical in some antipodal parishes.

After coffee, we stepped out of the forecourt back into urban reality as the sexton cleaned, noting that in the secular world it was past lunchtime. We found a restaurant advertising 'The Food of Malabar and Kerala' and were served a meal as splendid as the church service. There was a map of Malabar and Kerala on the wall, and we studied it to refresh our dim memory of just where this was. After lunch, a woman in the restaurant approached us, commenting that she had seen us in the church, and asked if we were members. She told us that she was Indian Orthodox, and that her church was reputedly founded by Saint Thomas. She was as far from home as we were, also visiting, and also sought to worship in that church because she knew it would be a sanctuary for her.

Current conflict to the contrary, there is a worldwide communion amongst Christians who choose to accept it. We are all one body, for we all share one bread, one cup. Step inside.

See you next week.

Cynthia McFarland's signature
Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 11 July 2004

A thin blue line
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