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Hallo again to all.

Look! an angelWe live in a city with more than a half-dozen churches using the Book of Common Prayer or one of its near relatives. To use a happy turn of phrase, we are spoiled for choice. When we moved here several years ago and found ourselves in the business of finding out which parish church would be best to call home, there was one church we did not visit. Although it was the oldest in the city, it had the worst reputation in many ways. Our friends and acquaintances told us

Oh, they're snake-belly Low Church. (knowing sneer)
They've never gotten over the departure of old Dr Pennypulpit who was there for 45 years.
All they believe in is social work.
There's nothing there for women—they have a boys choir.
Everybody there is rich.
They don't even have a good coffee hour.

None of that seemed very attractive to us. So we went to all the other churches our friends recommended, some of them for months at a time. We found ourselves not feeling quite right or quite welcome, despite the welcoming sloganeering proclaimed on every available surface. Our neighbours in the pew were already looking at the next people down the line as they reached over to share the peace with us. We met several priests five or six times for the very first time, having extended and involved conversations one week with someone who asked us in all sincerity the next week 'Is this your first time here?' Our cheques were deposited with efficient dispatch, but our emails about parish activities and formal membership were ignored or never answered.

Through a series of unfortunate events, we ended up attending the snake-belly-Low-church-that-hadn't-recovered-from-Dr Pennypulpit-and-didn't-believe-in-anything-but-social-work-and-was-only-attended-by-rich-people-who-didn't-have-any-concern-for-women-because-of-its-boys-choir-and-bad-coffee-hour.

O felix culpa.

To our amazement, we discovered that none of the things everyone said about Christ Church on the Hill were true.

They were nothing like Low Church—not that there's anything wrong with that—and in fact had candles on the altar, a processional cross, a vested choir, eucharistic vestments and paraments in coloured accordance with the liturgical year, eastward-facing celebration, a side altar for small daily celebrations, and a surprising number of scandalously Ritualist practices in evidence.

We didn't notice any rich people, but we don't actually know what they look like.

The parish's social work programme is indeed active and extensive, but this flows out of its commitment to the Holy Eucharist as an activity whose gifts to the world flow outward and materially in addition to inward and spiritually.

Nobody we've spoken to this year has mentioned old Dr Pennypulpit, and his picture isn't even posted yet in the long row of former rectors in the parish hall.

Boys choir turns out to be not an expletive term, but a description of one choral programme among many. Girls are as welcome as treble-aged boys in the musical offerings of the parish, as are women and men.

Oh, and coffee hour was wonderful, and it only lasted 30 minutes.

Against all the bad word on the street, Christ Church on the Hill is a large, active, engaged, thinking, dignified, traditional, cheerful, progressive parish church. It also has a very good website and a happy priest who preaches good sermons.

And in addition to all this, the warmth of the welcome by parishioners was sincere and gentle. Nobody asked where we usually go to church. At the exchange of the peace, our pew-neighbours actually looked at us while they were shaking our hands. No one seemed to be watching us to make sure that we were inclining our heads in just the right way at the Sacred Name, or crossing ourselves at just the right times. Nobody asked to take our photograph for the parish directory on the first Sunday we visited, and nobody tried to make us sign a pledge card because we appeared to have a pulse.

We felt a bit silly for having believed the incorrect gossip for all these years, and for failing to have a look on our own. And we wonder, too, just what kind of role this kind of misinformation must play in the dynamics of membership in urban parishes in other places. The good news is that we've found quite a lovely church where we can sing in sincerity and truth as we did this morning:

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of thy peace.

See you next week.

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All of us at Anglicans Online

22 January 2012

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