Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pentecost at Malmesbury

The one great constant in my life is that nothing is ever quite as I expect!

What had I anticipated for the Pentecostal service at Malmesbury Abbey? I’m not quite sure. Probably something rather conventional and a little formal. Do you remember me telling you about the Evensong I attended at Westminster Abbey a few weeks ago? It was a beautiful, disciplined, but soulless State occasion. I suppose I thought that Malmesbury Abbey would offer the rural equivalent.
I certainly didn’t expect what I got!

At Westminster, the service had restricted the congregation to the role of docile observers. Malmesbury, by contrast, went overboard in offering an occasion for whole-hearted participation!

No . . . I’m not being disparaging. Please don't think that for a moment. Unexpected it may have been, unfamiliar it definitely was . . . but it was also deeply moving. From the moment of arrival, I felt engulfed in good fellowship.

The service was passionate - not a word that usually springs to mind in relation to the Anglican Church! Never before have I seen the young and the middle-aged - all, seemingly, local people from the Wiltshire countryside - reaching out with their arms in evident joy and devotion. And, as they reached out to their God, so they also reached out to each other. For no apparent reason - certainly not one that could be linked to the service sheet - members of the congregation would suddenly and spontaneously swing round and embrace those standing beside them. Couples, young and old, stood singing the hymns with their arms intertwined. The love and goodwill were tangible.

I don't believe in leaving Rupert in the car, so I had him with me. He is totally dependable on such occasions, more to the point, he thoroughly enjoys them.
However, Malmesbury Abbey was to test even Rupert’s good manners. Around him people stood up, sat down, sang, prayed, gesticulated, and moved up to and back from the altar. Unmoved, Rupert continued to sit solemnly on his chair beside me in the back row. It wasn’t until the closing moments, when the Vicar was delivering the blessing, that Rupert stirred.

“Go in peace . . .” said the Vicar.
“Miaow!” said Rupert, clearly and distinctly. He rose to his feet, stretched . . . and, as the congregation responded to the blessing, jumped neatly to the ground!
The ninety nine per cent of the congregation who had been totally unaware of the cat in their midst, reacted in surprise and amusement. Even I, used as I am to his good behaviour, was amazed that he could have known that the service had ended.
Was it the blessing? No-one had yet started to leave. How did he know? It’s a mystery . . . and Rupert has no intention of enlightening me!

There's so much about that morning that will linger in my memory.
All right . . . arm stretching, clapping and hugging, may not be the norm on my spiritual journey - nor was the strong evangelical theme - but to each his own path. Standing on the verge of this one, observing the friendly people as they strode confidently along the way they had chosen for themselves, was something that I won’t forget and would never dream of criticising.

More than that, Malmesbury gave me a Pentecost for which I’m truly grateful.
Bless you for sharing it.