On Sunday 24th September, Archdeacon Christopher led our service to dedicate our new Welcome Project. The sermon was full of interesting bits of the history of St Marys, so with special permission, here is the text.
Crich – Dedication of Welcome Project
24th September 2017
‘… are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.
On 17 July 1824, almost 200 years ago, another Archdeacon of Derby visited Crich. My distinguished predecessor, Samuel Butler, was carrying out a thorough visitation of his archdeaconry. If you think that your clergy are spread thinly nowadays it is worth bearing in mind that the archdeaconry at that time covered the whole of Derbyshire and that Butler was a part-time archdeacon. His main job was as a very successful of Headmaster of Shrewsbury School, where the young Charles Darwin was one of his pupils. Butler therefore had to do most of his archdeacon’s work in the school summer holidays – in July 1823 and 1824 he visited all the churches in the archdeaconry, often going to six in one day, to interrogate his churchwardens and give instructions for improvements.
What Butler found here making interesting reading. He describes St
Mary's as an ‘ancient Gothic building’ with accommodation for 400 people, although none for the poor. The church was clean perhaps cleaned specially for his visit - but very damp : the registers were
in a bad state. There was a pony living in the churchyard. All this was, of course, before the later Victorian restoration of this church.
As far as worship was concerned, there was one service every Sunday, alternating between morning and evening, as well as on Good Friday and Christmas Day. Holy Communion was celebrated four times a year - a common practice at the time – with about 20 communicants. The vicar, Thomas Cornthwaite, lived in Derby and didn't do much here – the needs of the parish were left in the hands of the curate, who did live in Crich. Butler noticed the large number of Methodists in the parishes. He also instructed that the floor was to be re-laid, the whole building repointed and the churchyard gates repaired.
It also sounds a bit depressing and rundown, just about muddling through – a long way from the kind of golden age some are prone to reminisce about. How unlike the splendid Welcome Project which we are celebrating today, with its opportunities for outreach and service.
Obviously, a great deal has changed since 1824, not least in the ease and speed of communications. Our lives are busier and less settled - we move around a lot more : the dozen or so miles between here and Derby is of little significance today. We can make choices about how we live our lives which were unimaginable two hundred years ago. And yet, perhaps in some ways not all that much has changed. This building has stood at the centre of a community’s life for hundreds of years, knowing its peaks and troughs, as well as the humdrum everyday world of Sunday services, baptisms, weddings, and funerals. We sometimes underestimate the power of buildings like this to affect people at a deep, sometimes subconscious level. All people know the urge to be a better self, and the regret when they fall short of this, and churches and their ministry can provide the physical, psychological and spiritual space in which people can ponder what that might mean for themselves and for others.
As we dedicate the Welcome Project this morning it is worth asking what this means for St Mary's. Is it simply intended to enhance the existing offer, or is it a springboard to something different? To put it another way, what services does St Mary’s offer?
When we look at a list of services on a church noticeboard we expect to see phrases like Holy Communion, or Choral Evensong, or All Age Worship, or, heaven help us, the 5th Sunday of the month. But what would it be like to have a church noticeboard with something like this under ‘Services’.
This church provides you with the opportunity to
- engage your imagination
- learn and be encouraged in the practice of holiness and wisdom
- open yourself to the new and expected
- deepen your sympathies
- and, of course, go to the loo and get a decent cup of tea or coffee!
If we were to think of ourselves as offering these kind of services, through our worship, fellowship, healing and yes, by the sheer physical presence of this building, we might be helped in our task of bringing people closer to the distinctive way in which Jesus lived his life.
‘Are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.
The lesson of our gospel reading, the story of the labourers in the vineyard, is that the profligacy and generosity of God's love not only challenges human assumptions but outrages them, appears bizarre and nonsensical to a carefully calculated view of human existence. We must prepare to be surprised!
So, we pray that as we give thanks to God for the vision and hard work that have gone into the enhancement of this building, we may come to a fresh understanding of our ministry so that we in our place and time may learn what it means to welcome people in the name of Jesus Christ.