Marking time..

Address given on Sunday 11 October 2020 – marking the 17th Anniversary of Wilton Parish Church’s Dedication

I think it’s fair to say that this anniversary year
has NOT quite unfolded as planned!
Concerts, social events, fund-raising campaign – so many things have been either shelved or postponed as we react to the unplanned events of 2020.

Who would ever have imagined this House of Prayer being closed to the public, or our celebrations of Easter here being cancelled?

And one of the consequences for this Dedication Festival is that I can’t do my usual trawl through the Visitors Book or comments on TripAdvisor – because this year there aren’t any!

So instead, I want to reflect on some of the things that have kept us busy over the past 6 months,
and where this Parish Church now sits in relation to the town it serves, and those many other people who feel some kind of connection to it.
As you will know from experience, this year has demanded a certain amount of creative thinking –
faced with a wall of things we can’t now do, we’ve had to invent new ways to achieve the same goals.
Our efforts to be a parish church – and to reach as many of our neighbours as we can – have most recently involved the filming and then posting online of services like this one.

And within that process I discovered a new phrase. Whenever I take the basic file from the recorder, and ask my computer to convert it into a suitable format for our website and Facebook page, the same phrase pops up.

As I click a button that says “export”, a little blue line appears on the screen, to indicate progress – and above it the two words “consuming” and “time”.

It usually takes 30 – 40 minutes to complete that process, so you’ll see why I’ve had time to notice them!
And it occurred to me, while twiddling my thumbs, that depending on where you put the emphasis, those two words could mean quite different things.

I assume it’s meant as “consuming time” –
the time taken for the computer programme to consume the information on my memory card.
But switch the emphasis to the second word, and it suggests a more intriguing concept of
consuming time itself!

And I wondered what would happen if I applied my little word game to the world outside my study.

“Consuming time” makes a lot of sense,
having witnessed this week’s relaunch of Wilton Shopping Village as The Guild. Their marketing has been very skilful, with new road signs, and enticing images on Facebook and Instagram clearly designed to draw us there, and to prompt some conspicuous consumption.

And if we wander into Salisbury,
or one of the larger shopping centres,
we’re likely to observe not only those in the act of spending money and acquiring things,
but also those who seem to draw their retail therapy simply from the atmosphere,
consuming the experience of being there –
albeit a rather changed experience this year.

So whether we approve or not, consuming time seems to be very much a part of our culture today.
But what about my rogue interpretation of consuming time? Are we in fact using well the time we’ve been given – or are other things/other people eating it all up for us?

Many of us always seem so busy –
with little time to enjoy the things we’ve acquired, or even the gifts of nature that we haven’t needed to acquire?

How much time do we spend “On hold” waiting for a real person to speak to us on the phone?
How much time do we spend in meetings or filling in forms before we can actually get on and do something?
How much time do we lose, waiting for our internet provider to actually provide internet access?
How much time to we waste sitting in the traffic queue o the Wilton Road, wondering why our 2 minute journey home is taking for like 20?!

Clearly we can’t only do the things we find fulfilling and avoid those tedious things that have to be done – lovely though that would be – but it’s worth checking the balance now and then.

Are we doing certain things because they are necessary and helpful – to us or to someone else? Or are we doing them just because we think we really ought to?
And if it IS out of a sense of duty – rather than necessity – then we need to be careful, so that we don’t wind up worn-out, confused and no use to anyone.

In the life of a church – an anniversary, such as the one we celebrate now, is as good an opportunity as any to take stock and assess what we are doing, and how we do it.

As we celebrate 175 years of life in this building – are we busily intent now on preserving this building for another 175 years? Or is there more to it?

On one level, we can’t avoid that challenge of maintaining this building, – or the meetings and form-filling involved in keeping it safe.

But might this anniversary also inspire us
to refresh our sense of purpose –
to reflect on the people who’ve cared for and worshipped in his church since 1845,
why they did so,
and what it is we think we’re doing when we come here?

Isn’t the surest way to ensure that this building is still standing in the year 2195 to celebrate the life that is here now, and to try and build on it?

And if we can’t do all those things we used to do,
then let’s seize any new opportunities that arise and do whatever we can now do as well as we can, with whoever wants to be a part of it all.

The chief priests and scribes in today’s gospel reading clearly saw themselves as guardians of the Temple – fulfilling their duty by repelling all innovation or criticism.
And there’s perhaps a warning for us, who know this place so well, not to allow ourselves to become guardians of the past but instead to seek to be enablers of the present.

At this time we have to “guard” the way this church is used, in order to avoid infection. We can’t open our doors every day as we used to. And yet, even without the Morning Prayers that 4 or 5 of us used to offer here each day, easily ten times that number of people ARE now connecting with our daily prayer online.
Even when it is locked, this Parish Church can still be a focus for prayer.
As with so many things in 2020,
we’ve stumbled across new ways of doing things – which may yet prove to be temporary;
or a better alternative to what existed before;
or, more likely, a new opportunity to add alongside the tried and tested.

The important thing is that we don’t denigrate those things when they seem to appeal more to others than to us – “perfect praise”, Jesus suggests, may be found in the most surprising of places and people.

This Temple to God’s glory is not just for us, and neither is it the only place in Wilton where God is to be found.

God is not contained in THIS house,
any more than in the Temple that Solomon built –
and yet, still, his presence can be felt here,
can be seen here reflected in glass and stone –
and can be communicated from here,
through camera lens and phone or computer screen.

Let us give thanks then for the vision of Sidney Herbert and Ekaterina Voronstov, in providing this church
as a window on the reality of God’s presence on earth,
and a glimpse of the life of heaven.

And let us always aim for beauty and truth in our worship, so that there are moments when we find ourselves lifted beyond time – and resting in the timeless presence of God.