Sunday, December 10, 2006

Nativity set rescue

When we closed St James' church, back in September, we managed to find new homes in the other churches of the Parish for a variety of items, sacred vessels and vestments, hymn books, a few pieces of furniture, in addition to the basic equipment we took into the school to use in worship there. One thing that got left behind was a nativity set of painted plaster figures - some of them were a bit tired looking. As Advent got under way last week, I mentioned to a couple of teachers attending 'God on Mondays' that the set was still there, and could the church possibly find a home for them. I had already noted that the school has a very nice wooden nativity set in the foyer, so I wasn't too sure about the response I would get. I was delighted when genuine interest was shown, and arranged to take the teachers over to the church, later in the week and have a look at them.

When I turned up to organise the furniture in the school hall to welcome our Sunday afternoon Eucharist, I found that the figures were on display in the hall already, artistically and simply arranged in a quiet corner. A gym mat had been placed protectively on the floor in front of the display, just in case a boisterous child sent any of the figures flying. Later I learned that the children had in fact been most respectful of the space occupied by the nativity figures. At least the older classes of children recalled seeing them on display in church, and were aware of how special they were.

When the members of the dozen strong congregation turned up, there was such a look of genuine pleasure on their faces, to see that the figures had found a new home, and were regarded as much with value by the school as they had been when they were used in church. A poignant moment in this season of bereavement for the loss of their church building. For me to be rid of the worry of looking after it is a great liberation, but for the few loyal people who'd attended most of their lifetimes, and seen a community of hundreds wither away and disperse, a painful and bitter experience - an experience of helplessness going back years. Only their friendship and their faith in God to see them through everything in good and bad times alike has kept them going. Some on-lookers fail to see the value in maintaining Sunday worship for so few who could so easily attend other local Anglican churches. It surprises me that they seem unable to put themselves in the position of this faithful remnant, even though all our churches are experiencing decline and are facing extinction sooner or later. Maybe they're afraid to. I just believe that the faith of that brave remnant of a once great congregation must be honoured and celebrated with a little tender love and care. God's glory somehow still manages to shine through in our sorrow and weakness.

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