From the Rectory – Surely the Lord is in this Place
Then Jacob awoke and said “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Gen 28:16 & 17)
The last day of July, following major repair work by the Churches Conservation Trust, the doors of Stonham Parva church were open for the first time in nearly four years. In celebration we came for Choral Evensong. Our theme, drawn from Genesis 28, Surely the Lord is in this place.
Jacob’s dream of a ladder reaching to heaven is well known. Less well known, perhaps, is the way Jesus, drawing on this image, pictured himself as the ladder bridging earth and heaven (Jn 1:51). Heaven is not a distant land. St Paul tells us that God is not far from each of us. In him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:27,28). God is close. We’re not very good at looking for him. Fortunately, as Jacob’s dream tells, and Jesus shows, God looks for us.
No ladders for me, but shortly before I was ordained, I had a similar experience during a visit to the ruined Castle Acre Priory, in Norfolk. Standing on the site of the church, I was struck with an overwhelming sense that here, just beyond my reach, – just on the edge of my senses – was a live, worshipping community. A community outside of our time and therefore not restricted by the events of Tudor England. I had to kneel and join in prayer.
Why was I surprised? Although the monks had left 400 years ago, for 400 years before that, this had been a house of prayer. Prayer is the language of communication with God. Little wonder then that God seems close, even when the earthly faithful have left.
Which brings me back to St Mary, Stonham Parva, a Grade 1 listed building. With its double hammer beam roof and wonderful acoustics, it is a building worth preserving, but it’s true value lies far deeper. For at least 700 years, this has been a house of prayer; a place for the community to encounter God. In that time, how many people have seen heaven opened there, helped by centuries of faithful prayer? How many have seen that thin, yet so often impenetrable, space between heaven and earth, pierced by the Son of Man? What is true of St Mary Stonham Parva is true of all our church buildings. In maintaining these spaces, and in helping tell their story, we will enable others to encounter God in years to come. This is the true value of the time, labour and treasury spent, not just on Stonham Parva, but on all our places.
Surely the Lord is in this place – Let us know this – and value God’s presence.
Rev’d Philip Payne Notice Sheet for 7 Aug 2022 can be found here