Saturday, 17 January 2015

The Power of Place

St Paul's Methodist Church, Basildon,
where I  bought and cemented a brick in
the wall (cost me £1.00) as a child
Over the Christmas season I enjoyed spending some time back in Basildon, Essex (my old stamping ground).  It was good to share with family who still live there.

St Nicholas Church, scene of the play
"Murder in the Cathedral"

During the few days I was there I tried to go out for a few mile walk each day.  As I trod the familiar streets and pathways a wealth of memories came flooding into my mind.  These included the Junior School that I went to and Sports Day where I took part in the “Camel Race”, the Comprehensive School in which we were an experimental year and so did Domestic Science and Needlework as well as Woodwork and Metalwork, being asked to play in the School Football team, Cross Country lessons at school which consisted of running out of school and having a sandwich with friends at home before running back to school having made sure our kit looked dirty!   Then there was the walk up the hill to St Nicholas Church where one night in the dark we went to see “Murder in the Cathedral”, a drama by T S Eliot that portrays the murder of Archbishop Thomas
Janet Duke Junior School
Becket in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170Coming out afterwards as teenager into the darkened graveyard was enough to scare the wits out of me.  As it was a friend and I managed to scare a few girls instead!  There was the morning paper round and cold snowy mornings which had to be dealt with, Christmas tips from customers, names from the past and the church I grew up in.  Memories of Sunday School, Boys Brigade, Youth Groups, friends, activities……
The street where I lived and where
my Mother still lives.

It is not that these memories were particularly unusual (although many were special) or that it would have been impossible to remember them on any other day.  However, the reality was it was the places that evoked the memories.  The power of place!

That gives us quite a challenge in terms of the memories we try to encourage in a faith setting, whether that be in a church building or when Christians have organised special events out in the community.  The encounter with these places and occasions can create powerful marks in people’s minds.  We often talk about planting seeds in the Church and perhaps mean by that how what we share with people may grow in their life until they become people of faith.  That is certainly one way of looking at it.  But maybe it could also mean the seeds of place being important and reminding people of important aspects of life, particularly faith.  To turn that round I seem to have met too many people that have found encounters within churches unhelpful.  The power of the place is such that memories are evoked that cause people to reject the Church and perhaps God.
"The Chess Men" at the bottom of my street.
A kind of contemporary art form come playground

Maybe there is very great importance placed on Christians to invite God to make holy ground for people to tread on so that, at some point in the future, the power of place means that they are drawn to reflect on faith and God.