Monday, 31 December 2018

2. St Mary-the-Virgin, Stoneleigh. December 30, 2018

From the pealing bells to the stone tower to the tweed-jacketed welcome it would be hard to produce anything which summed up England any more completely than this church on an overcast morning. I even take my place on a pew cushion celebrating the existence of the village cricket club.

The welcome is, without question, a sincere one. By the time I head for home, at least half a dozen people - not including the vicar and the sidespeople - have said warmly how pleased they are to see me. That’s not bad given a turnout of twenty. Christmas, as the vicar reminds us, is a very busy time for the church. It just seems that busyness translates into reasons you can’t make it. Still, the vicar - a lovely man brought out of retirement to help cover gaps when needed - exudes delight at us all being there and the whole service is uplifting far beyond its numerical clout.

From a start point of Jesus being a child prodigy whose achievements stand out because they came at such an early, measurable age, the vicar expands to a general theme of how we can only judge our success if we have a goal against which it can be placed. Without a target, he seems to be saying, we can’t know whether we’re going in the right direction. He might be alluding to Jesus’s mission statement of ridding the world of sin (tough one to quantify that) but I ponder how his words could apply to my current project.

I have no absolute goal in mind. I’m not seeking anything specific and so I can’t see how my progress toward or away from that aim could be measured. But I can imagine that keeping it going and finding myself stimulated by as-yet-unvisited places could easily be regarded as success. I conclude that, for me, it may be that the journey will bring the goal in sight - a view the vicar is happy to agree with when we chat afterwards and he shows genuine interest in my admittedly aimless quest.

If I lived in a village, this village, I’d be here every week. And I’d be able to reply with equal warmth how pleased I was to see them.