I am no expert on church buildings, but I once had the satisfaction (and I hope it wasn't too small-minded of me!) of putting right someone who was: the editor, no less, of a well-known series of guide books. She had asked me for information about a stained glass window in the church of which I was then the Vicar depicting the Three Marys at the Sepulchre. I gave her details of the date, dedication and artist, but pointed out that she was wrong about the subject, as in fact it was a scene from the Raising of Lazarus, with Jesus, Mary, Martha and another disciple.
How had such a knowledgeable person made this mistake, especially as the picture had as a 'caption' a quotation from the story: "The Master is come and calleth for thee" (John 11.28)? Quite simple really. In her own words in her letter of thanks:
"I am afraid I identified the subject of the window wrongly by looking through it from the outside."
The church had been locked at the time of her visit. In those circumstances I reckoned she'd made a very good guess!
When you stop to think about it, Christianity itself is something that can only really be understood and appreciated from the inside. From the outside, a stained glass window is dull and colourless, and as in the case of my correspondent, it may not be possible to see what it's about. I think there are thousands in this country who make a casual judgment about the Christian faith and deem it irrelevant. Or if they think a bit more deeply they decide that it's all about keeping rules, giving up all fun and freedom, and having to spoil the weekend with church.
Too many fail to discover Christianity from the inside: the love of God our Father, the friendship of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit, the fellowship of believers, the freedom to be fully human, the assurance of forgiveness when we fail, of help when we are in need, and of eternal life, starting in this world and continuing into the next.
And why don't they discover it? Probably because no one 'invited them in.' Do those of us who call ourselves Christians, by the way we speak and behave, make people want to 'come and have a proper look', metaphorically speaking? For that matter, how many of us actually invite them to come with us to church on Sunday, or try St Lawrence Café, 3G, Messy Church or one of the other group activities that are part of our church life? There are times, I confess to my shame, when I've been more enthusiastic about recommending one of my personal hobbies than about commending Jesus Christ and his gospel - and I'm a Vicar!
The church's Worship Committee has decided to re-introduce a weekly pew sheet. The main purpose is to have the day's Collect (special prayer) and Bible readings printed in full for easy reference, and hopefully make it easier to follow my sermons. There will also be space for brief announcements about upcoming events, personal news, and requests for prayer.
On that last point, I want to assure you that no one's name will appear on the prayer list without their express permission or request, or that of someone very close to them. People may have very good reasons for wanting to maintain privacy (though being prayed for by name in church does not mean, as some suppose, that the Vicar believes you to be at death's door!). Details of how and when to submit items for inclusion will appear on the sheet itself.
Your sincere friend and Vicar, Charles Mason