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ALL SAINTS AND A SIMPLE MEAL (Sabbatical Sundays 08)

This weekend we are down in Ebbesbourne Wake in Wiltshire once again, visiting Julia’s 96-year-old mother, Olivia. Where to worship this coming Sunday? That is the question? We have to be back in Reading on Monday (although still on sabbatical, Julia has a couple of meetings in preparation for returning to work at the beginning of April) so we don’t want to venture into Salisbury again this visit. We are looking after Olivia this weekend so we don’t want to be out and about for too long anyway.

We decide to go local and visit one of the churches in the Chalke Valley. Julia’s younger sister, Livy (who lives next door but one to Olivia, and who is her principal carer) suggests All Saints at nearby Broad Chalke because they have a 9.30 a.m. Parish Communion. Livy is going to the 6.00 p.m. Evening Prayer at another of the Chalke Valley churches, Holy Trinity at Bower Chalke but that is too late for us because Julia has to make dinner for Olivia around that time. There is no Service this Sunday at St John the Baptist in Ebbesbourne Wake itself so we can’t go there. There was a Methodist Church in Ebbesbourne Wake (but that has recently closed) and there is a United Reform Church at Broad Chalke (but their Service is not until 10.30 a.m.). We would like to go there sometime because it is a great example of a very successful Community Hub Church operating as a village shop, Post Office and Community Café six days a weeks and a church on a Sunday … but this Sunday we have to be back home for 11.00 a.m. for Olivia. So … All Saints, Broad Chalke it is then!   

The Chalke Valley group of Anglican Churches is very interesting. We have actually visited them all at one time or another, but not always on a Sunday. They are a team of 12 communities spread along the Chalke Valley, near Salisbury, passionate about their local church communities, and the role that they play in rural village life, and on a mission to share God’s love and his kingdom both within those communities and further afield. Their declared aim is to ‘deliver high quality worship and develop a range of Christian worship so that all are welcomed and enriched in their faith; Love our neighbours and demonstrate this by giving our time and sharing our resources; Serve and support our village communities and especially those who are disadvantaged; Work with the schools in our valley to support them as they nurture young people early in their faith journey’. We wonder at the practical realities of these objectives given that there are church buildings in every community with all the demands that maintaining those churches brings, with limited human and financial resources.

We arrive at All Saints in good time, park in their large carpark with its magnificent views, find our way to the front of the church (with the aid of friendly parishioner who guides us through the graveyard covered with beautiful snowdrops). We are made very welcome by several people – all hopeful that we have moved permanently into the area, and slightly disappointed to discover we are only visiting – and find ourselves a nice pew where we can remain reasonably inconspicuous. I find my eyes drawn to a large painted text on the wall above the chancel – a quote from 1 Peter 2:17 – exhorting us to ‘Love the Brotherhood; Fear God; Honour the King’. We wonder which King we are supposed to be honouring with the Coronation of Charles III not that far away now?! We hope it is King Jesus!

The church is pleasantly warm (which is not always the case with Anglican Churches) and the Order of Service booklet we are given is easily understandable (which equally is not always the case with Anglican Churches). The Chalke Valley Churches don’t have a Team Rector at the moment, but they do have a couple of other Clergy Team Members who have the dubious task of looking after all these churches and communities. The Parish Communion is taken by one of these – the Rev Dr Ruth Howlett-Shipley – who is fairly new to the Chalke Valley. She is very pleasant, has a good voice and a good manner about her, and leads the Service very well.

There are 30 or so people present – virtually all elderly, white, British – but we all enter into proceedings with that level of enthusiasm one would expect from elderly, white British people. Members of the congregation read the various Lectionary Bible Passages for the day, and lead the Prayers for the Church and the World, and do so very well. The organist is excellent, although one or two of the hymns are somewhat staid, and there is a hilarious moment when we venture in to a sung response (clearly unknown and unexpected by most) where the organist plays one tune and the rest of us sing various totally unconnected tunes … all at the same time).

It is the First Sunday in Lent so the sermon (taken from Matthew 4:1-11) is about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Ruth is very good – expounding the passage well and applying its lessons practically – encouraging us to resist temptation but accept testings, whilst keeping our eyes continually on Jesus. Communion is nicely done, and we feel blessed and encouraged by the time the Service ends exactly an hour after we started. Lots of people want to talk to us – still trying to persuade us to retire to the Chalke Valley – but we eventually manage to say our final goodbyes and drive home to Ebbesbourne Wake and Olivia.

So … there will be no huge Sunday Lunch this Sunday. We are here to help look after Olivia and spend some time with her, so no visit to a local eatery is on the cards today. I do think about nipping up the road to the Horseshoe Inn in Ebbesbourne Wake – they have an excellent reputation for good food – but I don’t think I would get away with it. And … I remember that I have to ‘resist temptation’! Besides, Julia is cooking dinner for us tonight, and she is an excellent cook, so I need to leave room for that! So, a simple meal it is … a bowl of delicious chicken soup and an egg mayonnaise roll, all washed down with a glass of … water!     

Jim Binney    

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