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We are driving past Wimbledon Common, at silly o’clock on a Sunday morning, because the Church Service we are going to starts at 9.30 a.m. Perhaps it is because it is silly o’clock, or because we had a hilarious overnight stay at the Premier Inn, Chessington (involving a somewhat disastrous dinner and equally disappointing breakfast at the Monkey Puzzle Beefeater next door, as part of the package deal) which we learned to laugh about rather than get bitter. Or perhaps it is simply because we are alongside Wimbledon Common … but (whatever the reason) I find myself singing the Wombling Song:

Wombles are organised, work as a team,

Wombles are tidy and Wombles are clean.

Underground, overground, Wombling free,

The Wombles of Wimbledon Common are we.

We are on our way to St Matthews Church, an inclusive and vibrant church which sits in the heart of the West Wimbledon and Raynes Park community. They describe themselves as ‘a traditional – in a modern kind of way; liberal – in an orthodox kind of way, and we enjoy music, discussion about the Christian faith, and engaging with our community … our services are both formal and relaxed, engaging all our senses as we joyfully worship God … the home of Soulscape Wimbledon… a monthly space for anyone and everyone to connect with God in their own way through silence, music and meditative prayer’.

We are going to their ‘Mass for All Ages with Baptism and First Communion’ Our friends Serena and Alastair Newman are members there – Alastair is now an ordained Anglican Priest, and Curate at St Matthews. They were members of Beckenham Baptist Church, Kent, when Julia and I were the Senior and Associate Ministers there. We married them, and we are godparents to their two children Sebastian and Genevieve. Genevieve is being baptised today (by affusion not full immersion) and we are looking forward to seeing them (and a good number of their family and friends) at the Service and at their house for lunch afterwards.

In the course of 50+ years in the Baptist Ministry I have seen a number of people (who have sat under my ministry, so to speak) hear, and respond, to God’s call to the ministry themselves. Fascinatingly, quite a few have ended up as Anglican Ministers (I should really be put on commission by the Church of England). I have pondered why this has happened so often? Is it because I have failed to do my job of facilitating, enabling, and encouraging, properly? The conclusion I have come to is that it is because I have always encouraged those under my ministry to think deeply about the Christian Faith (not simply ‘academically’ but in a C S Lewis’ ‘deep church’ way). I suspect that some have embraced a more Catholic Faith as a reaction to what has been perceived as a somewhat shallow, trite, and (at times) quite nasty or ‘nutty’ side, in some forms of evangelical and charismatic approach to the Christian faith. It is therefore not surprising that an increasing number are seeking something a bit deeper, more real, more practical in terms of us Christians truly being salt and light and leaven in this broken and hurting world of ours.

St Matthews is ‘High Church’ but they do it well! Alastair (aware that we missed out on the incense last Sunday at Salisbury Cathedral) has promised us plenty of ‘smells and bells’ this Sunday. I have to confess that I rarely attend such churches without a secret smile as I recall a line from Larry Norman’s poem (c. 1970s), The First Time I Went to Church (about the observations of a group of 18 year-old non-church kids first visit to a High Anglican Service), ‘Holy smoke … Vicar’s handbag’s caught on fire!’  

The church is packed when we arrive. There must be 150+ I estimate. I don’t know if this is normal, or if there are a lot more because it is an ‘All Age’ Mass and eleven children are receiving their First Communion and lots of parents and family are present. The Service is great and we really love it. Somehow the ‘theatre’ of High Church worship lends itself to an All Age Service. There are lots of children there and they really engage with all the drama of the worship. Alastair conducts worship really well – Julia tells him afterwards that she is really proud of him – mind you he really looks the part. Tall, dark and handsome, a great voice, intelligent, a good communicator, he has a presence about him … he even carries off wearing all those robes well. The music is excellent, a good choir (seated in the congregation), a great organist/pianist, a lovely blend of songs and hymns well suited for a family service (we loved the beginning of the Prayers of Confession and Repentance sung to the tune of ‘What shall we do with the drunken sailor’, and the conclusion of a Prayer of Praise to the tune of ‘Twinkle, twinkle little star’). It was a shame that nothing was sung to the Wombling Song though.

The children participated fully in the Service with Bible Readings and Prayers, gathering around the Vicar, the Rev Dr Helen Orchard (affectionately known as Mother Helen) for her wonderfully illustrated Sermon on the Gospel Reading for the Day, Jesus’ teaching on being salt and light (Matthew 5:13-20). She was quite brilliant with them (drawing us all into her subject at the same time). With skilful use of her props – an egg floating in salty water and a reading lamp that needs to be plugged in to the mains in order to shine brightly – she fully involved the children eliciting positive responses from them about the need to truly believe in Jesus, and demonstrate that through Bible reading, prayer, attending church, taking the sacraments seriously, service and witness in the world. The kids loved it … and so did us adults!

Everyone was really friendly. There was coffee and cake afterwards – the coffee was instant (the unforgivable sin in my eyes) but I will forgive them if they have purchased a decent coffee making machine in time for our next visit. And we will visit again … not just to see Serena, Alastair, Sebastian and Genevieve … but because we really enjoyed the occasion, and received something from God from it. I have no intention of transferring my allegiance to High Church Anglicanism (at present), but I do appreciate the ‘substance’ of a well thought through act of worship, skilfully presented Bible teaching, a meaningful Eucharist … everything impregnated with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

After the Service we all pile round to Serena and Alistair’s house. We are all there – Great Uncle Bulgaria (old and wise), Tobermory (handyman), Madame Cholet (chef), Orinoco (lazy and greedy), Wellington (clever and shy), Tomsk (sporty and strong, Bungo (bossy and excitable) and all the rest. It is so good to catch up with so many old friends (and make a few new ones as well). Although not related, Julia and I feel very much part of the Aylward/Newman extended family as we have all known each other for a good few years now and shared a lot together. It is a lovely time of catching up, swopping news and stories, and just having good conversation. Meeting new babies, laughing at funny stories, and sharing sadness’s as well. I just love being amongst this group of intelligent, interesting people – every single one far more intelligent than me but accepting of me nonetheless – such a rewarding experience. It was such a good time that I forgot to take any photos of our lunch, but I have managed to dredge up a group photo from somewhere … see below.

Jim Binney

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