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Porch prayers at Surlingham

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Barbara Bryant, Diocesan Environment Officer, recently joined a group of people praying in the porch of St Mary’s, Surlingham, south of Norwich. The simple service struck a chord with her about connecting two spaces.

A quiet, reflective service in the Celtic tradition has been held in the church porch, twice a month on Tuesday mornings for some 15 years. Surlingham St Mary Church is a beautiful medieval building with a round tower set on the edge of a nature reserve, and close to the River Yare. The morning I joined the small group of prayerful people, the signs of Spring were all around. Although the bird song was occasionally drowned-out by some neighbouring building work, the atmosphere was of a liminal place where God’s creation welcomed prayerful contemplation.

The Revd Mandy Ansell explained how the idea began. “I had been with a group from All Hallows, Ditchingham to Lindisfarne a number of times, and was inspired by the island, how vulnerable it was to the changing weather and seasons, how exposed the church was (we put woolly hats and scarves on, as we went into the church!) yet as we sat in church, warmly wrapped up, hearing the wind whistling round the building, we felt safe and sheltered. So I guess I wanted to replicate that feeling, surrounded by the changing seasons and weathers, and for others to experience that too.”

We were joined by Charlie Hampton, Pippa Thurlow and Alexandra Evans who helped to place folding wooden chairs, with cushions in the porch area. A candle was lit and a simple half hour service using the Celtic Daily Prayer book was held. Individuals read various parts and periods of silence between readings and prayers enabled Spirit-filled contemplation.

The door into the church was open and the font was in view – an open invitation to explore inside. The gate on the front of the porch was likewise open – inviting those praying, and “being”, to drink in the view outside, to hear the birdsong and breeze, to smell the blossom.

Jesus connected with the natural world — the lilies and the birds. It is a great invitation to us to see that this is within our tradition, as well, and as much as Scripture is revelatory, so is the natural world. An opportunity to worship in a space that joins the inside with the outside – that allows a space to see that all creation praises and glorifies the living God, can enable a renewal of or a different experience of our relationship with God and with his creation.

It could also offer an opportunity to those who may not feel as comfortable inside a church building, but are keen to explore spirituality through nature, to bridge that divide. Passing walkers, or visitors to the churchyard can drop in and join in, with perhaps less fear of “not doing the right thing”.

Do you do something similar in your parish or benefice? Please do get in touch – especially if you’ve found some resources particularly helpful.

Exploring prayer and worshiping in this way can also contribute towards the teaching and worship aspect of the Eco Church survey.

Have you started your Eco Church journey yet?

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