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Hallo again to all.

Due in part to a limited number of saints or instances of Christ, parish churches are, typically, referred to by their location. Often it is the name of a town (St Paul, Alexandria), though sometimes a neighborhood (St Paul, Knightsbridge), or even a street. (St Paul, Bloor Street).  Oftentimes, they are even more specific—St George in the Pines, St Mary of the Hills, and perhaps the best known, St Swithun-in-the-Swamp.  A few days ago we encountered what we could only refer to as 'St Dennis*-in-the-Ditch.'

We were dutifully following our GPS while driving to meet friends at their new home in a new suburb, when we noticed on the map an Anglican parish coming up on the left. We looked for some of the signs of an Anglican church —a steeple, a churchyard, or a lychgate but saw none. It was only when we saw a small sign that we thought to look down. There, off the road, down a hill, almost hidden in the shadow of the road, sat a newish-looking church.

We admit to being a bit surprised. We have attended parishes in the hearts of downtowns, in villages, and in woods. Like Southwark Cathedral, they often sit in highly trafficked areas, showing their dedication to the community, or on Church Streets, or like the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, soar above on hills, showing the majesty of their architecture to the glory of God. We are accustomed to parishes being open for prayer and their location itself being a part of evangelism. Perhaps then it is unsurprising that this 'Dennis-in-the-Ditch' took us aback. It looked neither inviting nor accessible, causing us to wonder if it was perhaps for someone else – for those who 'already knew' or were 'already invited'.

Of The British Church, poet George Herbert wrote

I Joy, deare Mother, when I view
Thy perfect lineaments, and hue
                                    Both sweet and bright.
Beautie in thee takes up her place,
And dates her letters from thy face,
                                    When she doth write.
A fine aspect in fit aray,
Neither too mean, nor yet too gay,
                                    Shows who is best.
Outlandish looks may not compare:
For all they either painted are,
                                    Or else undrest.
She on the hills, which wantonly
Allureth all in hope to be
                                    By her preferr'd,
Hath kiss'd so long her painted shrines,
That ev'n her face by kissing shines,
                                    For her reward.
She in the valley is so shie
Of dressing, that her hair doth lie
                                    About her eares:

While she avoids her neighbours pride,
She wholly goes on th' other side,
                                    And nothing wears.
But dearest Mother, (what those misse)
The mean thy praise and glorie is,
                                    And long may be.
Blessed be God, whose love it was
To double-moat thee with his grace,
                                    And none but thee.

For much of history the church was the centre of community life and therefore the centre of the community. Important announcements were read from church steps and fairs and celebrations, births, deaths, and weddings were remembered on their grounds.

While in England the parish church is still at the heart of the village, town, or city, this is not true in much of the rest of the communion, and it is becoming less common even in England as parishes close or are repurposed. Is the parish in the ditch the future of the church?

We hope not.  

Much attention has been paid of late to diminishing church attendance from the high point in the 1950s and there has been conscious effort to take church to where people are. Anglicans have taken to meeting in coffee shops and bars, church on the common, and moves to make traditional church more inviting with soft spaces for children, listing end times for services, and even flashmobs aimed at getting new people to historic and architecturally significant churches. Guitars, incense, food drives, picnics, and concerts all aimed at attracting and retaining people into church and strengthening our Communion.

So out of the ditch! Out of the ditch and into the streets and squares and into centres of towns and villages and cities!

We will see you next week, from our home on the web.


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All of us at Anglicans Online

26 July 2015

*The parish name has been changed both for alliteration and to protect the oddly located.

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