Website Homily for Sunday 19 April 2020
Dear Members and Friends,
I have a friend who is the landlady of a pub in the village, and she regularly takes in lodgers. These are usually men, aged between youth and middle age, and in return for a modest rent, they have a room, clean linen, and plenty of wholesome food. Often they live at the pub for weeks and months, and occasionally years.
“They come here to be healed,” is what the landlady says. “They come to be looked after and to become well again.”
Often an individual on his own like her lodgers are people who are getting over some sort of crisis in their lives, a divorce, or loss of home, and at the pub they find a refuge, a haven, somewhere where they can rest and recover themselves.
Chapel is also a home of rest and recovery. We do not provide a bed and meals, but the purpose of our existence is also to be a place of healing, where broken lives can be made whole again.
People come to stay with us for weeks or months, and sometimes even years. Our need for this spiritual hospitality is literally life-long, and I know that many of us experience this need throughout our days.
Being part of the GM Zoom Room experience has brought with it two or three real surprises for me. I have to confess that I didn’t think an online Sunday service would be anything but a pale imitation of our regular chapel services. I didn’t think it could be spiritual or moving – and I was completely wrong about that.
From your comments alone I have realised how important our hour online together can be, how meaningful it is, and how warmly anticipated. And from my own experience of participating with you, I fully understand and feel how moving it can be.
We all recognise the need for a holy space, where (as one minister has expressed it) the fragmented parts of ourselves can be brought together.
Now, the extraordinary thing about our online service for me, is that as we all link together on our computers, tablets and phones, we begin to occupy the same space. It’s not just some random room in our house. It is as much a place of worship as our pew at Great Meeting.
As we congregate online, we demonstrate our need to come together, because in doing so we are strengthened, we are reaching out for healing, and in terms of our congregation we are made meaningful again.
Our words of worship which we hear, expressed in our own voices, are like an audible binding, holding us. And they are very affecting, – perhaps more so than usual, because they reflect our courage and our hope in challenging circumstances.
Each of us recognises within ourselves that we are in adversity, and one very usual reason for attending worship (in church, chapel, or online), is our admission that we are broken or damaged by circumstances, and that we seek to be made whole.
Although there are many reasons for attending worship: celebration, thanksgiving, and contrition; behind them all lies this greater purpose of being healed, – just as our local landlady recognised, and in her own equally important way, provided.
Again, it is extraordinary and surprising to me, that as we congregate separately and together online like this, the feelings we begin to experience and share, are those of calm, stillness, and peace; an atmosphere different, and yet recognisable, as the one we know from chapel. It is what it is because quite simply we have come together as a worshipping community.
Why we feel like this in chapel and online is ultimately a mystery, but it is a part of that feeling of being “at home” and feeling “at one”.
Our need is to be held together by the words we sing and share, But we also want to hear what other people are thinking and feeling. That is why I have been surprised by yet another element of our online worship, – and that is the effectiveness of our “Joys and Concerns”.
Simon, our worship leader, calls upon us to express our “Joys and Concerns”, and to do so online is paradoxically much more intimate and personal than it might be in the larger context of chapel.
Again, we live in interesting times (as the Chinese say), hard and very challenging times, and our need to express those emotions which either sustain us, or trouble us, is immense.
The expression of our “Joys and Concerns” can be very moving indeed, and we need to hear our own voices saying those things which many of us share and can understand.
Although I am still functioning in the age of the fountain pen, and am computer illiterate, I am very grateful indeed to have been invited by those who know what they are doing, to join in these online Sunday services.
They have certainly made a difference for me, as I know from your comments they have for you. Like you I have been inspired by the meaningfulness of our worship and this hospitality, and I am truly grateful for it.
A prayer by Richard S Gilbert, from his book In The Holy Quiet Of This Hour.
We meet on holy ground,
For that place is holy
Where lives touch, love moves, hope stirs.
How much we need these moments before the eternal,
The time to be in reverence before the ultimate,
The pause that renews,
The interlude that refreshes,
The space that gives us room to be.
We meet on holy ground,
Brought into being as life encounters life,
As personal histories merge into the communal story,
As we take on the pride and pain of our companions,
As separate selves become community.
How profound is our need for one another:
Our silent beckoning to our neighbours,
Our invitations to share life together,
Our welcome into the lives of those we meet,
And their welcome into our own.
May our souls capture this treasured time.
May our spirits celebrate our coming together
In this hour and in this space,
For we meet on holy ground.