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St Andrew’s • Cheam

News from St Andrew’s

Craig’s November message

St Andrew's Church
Revd Craig Bowman

Dear Friends

Following the Baptism of Ethan Crosse at St Andrew’s in late September in a relatively empty church with plenty of space between those present, I remembered a similar service in a very different setting.

Several years ago Louise, Thomas and I were holidaying on the island of Corfu. We spent one day in Corfu Town, the capital of the island and, besides visiting the Old Fortress, sipping a nice cold drink whilst overlooking the cricket pitch (unfortunately no game was in progress) and wandering around the maze of streets of the Old Town, we also visited the church dedicated to the patron saint of Corfu, St Spiridon.

The altar of St Spyridon church

The day we had chosen (unbeknown to us) was an important feast day in the Orthodox Church so the church was very busy with devout Greek Christians coming to the church to pray and meditate before the icons of the church, including a very grand gold icon of St Spiridon, and to pray in front of his silver coffin which is housed in a small chapel behind and to the right of the altar. In the church there were also a great many tourists like us who had come to see the church and perhaps to pray. There was one fairly large tour party who were seated in the chairs on the left side of the church whilst their guide informed them about St Spiridon. As you can imagine it was anything but a peaceful scene, especially as many of those milling about were carrying icons, crosses, or candles that they had bought in the shops in the narrow street next to the church. Yet, strangely enough, it was a peaceful place and no doubting the sense of the Holy that was to be found there.

However, the strangest thing for me was that in the midst of this throng a priest was carrying out a blessing service for baby twins whom the parents had brought to the church. Whilst he said the liturgy and prayed over them people were moving all about him and even between him and the altar and when he wished to hold the children over the tomb of St Spiridon saying a prayer there, he had to take his place in the queue of tourists and pilgrims who were waiting to enter the side chapel. He had to do this twice – once for each of the twins.

I couldn’t help but think what my reaction would be if I was trying to hold a dedication or thanksgiving service for a child in St Andrew’s and people were milling about in this way. At the very least I suspect I would say something sharp to those who got between me and the Communion Table! But then I realised that the two are not comparable. Things would be very different in that church during the Sunday services - this was not a formal act of worship we were witnessing but something that was happening in a church which was at the heart of the town’s life and which had visitors every day. Some of these would purely be sightseers, but others would be devout people of faith.

The parents who had brought their babies for this service knew that it would be full of people, and had chosen to do so. It was a very clear sign that the faith of these people was not separate from daily life but there to be celebrated in the midst of daily life. And those who had come to pray and meditate that day because it was a special day in their church’s year also knew that there would be many tourists there, and it made no difference.

For these people their church and their faith were at the heart of the town and the community in which it was set, and I couldn’t help but feel that here in this somewhat chaotic hubbub was something very precious and perhaps a reminder for us not to be too ready to separate our faith and church from the daily life of the community around us.

May we all find ways to bring our faith into the daily life of our community.

Craig Bowman

The Revd Craig Bowman is minister of St Andrew’s Cheam and Wallington United Reformed Churches

Posted on 1 Nov 2020