Friday, 28 March 2008

Holy joy in a (nameless) holy place

Easter Day this year ended up for me celebrating Christ’s resurrection with a couple of dozen people in what I’m told is the smallest Church in BucksLittle Hampden. For just over 800 years it has served what is now a few scattered houses up a valley high in the Chilterns. Historically it went with Hartwell, miles away, but it’s now in with Great Missenden, most ably served by Rosie Harper, and Tricia Neale. It’s so small that it’s hard not to feel very much connected and part of things. Worship included the world’s most adorable baby, about eighteen months old, who pootled up and down throughout proceedings smiling at everything and commenting in a surprisingly quiet and gentle, stream of consciousness, kind of way. A tangerine is certainly not a small orange.

It’s all split levels, with a beautiful simple altar table from the fourteenth century. There’s a parvis room over the porch, but nobody knew the way in any more! This church has no certain dedication, but a lot of Saint Christopher, in the glass, and in an unusually tall 13th century wall painting that originally greeted you as you entered the Church from the other side.

It has a lot of wall painting, including this doom in an usual position on the South wall — St Michael weighing souls, whilst the Devil jumps up and down on the bad side, trying (unsuccessfully) to outweigh Our Lady on the good side! I also noticed a 12th century Bishop, wearing exactly the gear I’d just had on at Coleshill for the big service earlier that morning. It’s always moving to stand in the place where hundreds of years of Christians have worshipped, especially in the very intimate setting of Little Hampden, with us all jammed together closely in a holy place the size of a living room.

Somebody said to me how disappointed they are by Fleet Street dwindling congregations, so we looked in the book which went back sixty years, and discovered that in general more people go to Church there now than did sixty years ago! I have had exactly this conversation followed by the same revelation of reality three times already this year. It’s strange how Flat Earth News becomes part of people’s consciousness, regardless of reality...

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