I visited St Winifred’s Well in northern Wales on my holiday and encountered an “old fashioned” religion that I hadn’t experienced since I was a boy. This holy place is called “The Lourdes of The UK” and has been visited by kings and ordinary people for many centuries. While I was there, an old couple was collecting a bottle of holy water from a brass spout. They got me thinking. I have an ideal of what religion and church ought to be — different now than when I was a boy — but is my view too limited? I began to think of other churches I have experienced.
On the same trip, I visited the Coventry Cathedral — the bombed out shell destroyed in a German air raid in WWII, built next too a very modern new cathedral. There were a few visitors in the ruins, and all were probably having a religious experience of some kind. The theme of this cathedral is forgiveness — even while the theme of the new church is portrayed by the massive bronze figure of the archangel Michael spearing the Devil. I thought the juxtaposition of these two themes says a lot about Christianity — simple acts and complex symbols.
Then I remembered another church I visited several years ago. This was an evening meeting of about 20 people who were “evangelical Christians.” Their joy was palpable. They shared a potluck supper, read from the Bible and discussed their ideas, told stories about their experiences of Jesus in their life, and prayed for various people. I thought at the time, and still do, that this meeting was very close to the early Christian church.
So, which of these are the “real church?” I might be inclined to look down on the practices at St Winifred’s Well, or on the complexities of the symbolism at Coventry, and wish for a simple joyful community. But something — the Holy Spirit?– doesn’t allow me to follow my own logic about church. “If I love all these manifestations of love for the Father, why don’t you?”
I find I have no answer to this confronting question. If I am completely honest I have many biases about churches, especially the different types of people who attend and their religious practices. all l I can say at present is “Lord, help me see with your eyes.”