The village of Monks Kirby is dominated by the mighty sandstone tower of St Edith’s Church. Founded in 1077, this majestic, almost cathedral-like church is today the Anglican parish church. Our little church of St Joseph’s nestles humbly at the other end of the village.
It has impressed me since I arrived in the parish that St Edith’s is open every day from dawn until dusk. Occasionally when I am out walking I will pop in, and I always appreciate the quiet beauty of the place.
Recently the church’s vestry was broken into and several items were stolen. For a few days afterwards the church was kept locked. It would have been understandable if it had remained shut outside of services for good but the rector and parochial church council took the bold decision to maintain their long practice of leaving the doors open for visitors. This is admirable and reminds me of the importance of accessibility to churches outside of times of worship.
I was fortunate some years ago to have served as a curate in a large town centre church which Nikolaus Pevsner described as “out of the ordinary for scale as for style”. The church sat on the fault line between the well-to-do upper town and the down-at-heel old town. It was a place where each day the doors were flung open and signs placed on the pavement welcoming everybody in.
I would spend long periods just hanging around in the church. This was never time wasted as it provided valuable opportunities for ministry to visitors who came in a steady stream throughout the day.
People came for all sorts of reasons, as was testified by the entries in the visitor’s book, which always quickly filled up and needed replacing. Curious tourists, casual passers-by and, faithful parishioners all seemed to appreciate the church being open. I was grateful for many of the relationships which developed with regular visitors, as well as the chance to meet all sorts of interesting people who came for a one-off visit. Those in need also found their way to the church for a place to shelter or to bend a listening ear. The building became a place of gentle evangelisation.
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