Our Sunday began by going to the Hexham Abbey. Although not for worship.
We were invited to observe the weekly Sunday morning bell ringing in the Hexham Abbey tower. The couple whose home we are living in here are avid bell ringers and their friend who picked us up at the airport has been ringing for over forty years! Hexham Abbey has quite a serious bell tower complete with ten bells. The largest one weighs a ton. Rather than describe the experience here is the little video so you can see it for yourself. We hope to get up into the actual bell chamber later this week and give it a go ourselves at one of their practices!
Sunday is the day of the week that I most notice being on sabbatical. It is odd to not be leading in worship on a Sunday – or like today, even attending worship. After the ringing we made the trek back down the tiny staircase (that incidentally was quite treacherous for my large feet) and out the door to join the bell ringers for tea and bacon (English bacon) sandwiches. Apparently they ring the bells but don’t go to worship most Sundays. From what we hear this is consistent with the general public’s worship attendance record throughout England. The other day I was invited to join a bicycle ride that leaves from Hexham each Sunday morning. A great deal happens on Sundays, but most people aren’t at church.
It was a bit awkward for us today when we returned to the church parking lot to retrieve our car after tea and ran into the Rector (Head Pastor). We hastily assured him that we would be attending worship next week! I now know how students at Pres House feel when I “catch” them missing worship. 😉
It has been a great relief though, to not face Sunday as a work day each week and instead to just be. It is a particularly freeing experience as ministers for us to do other things on a Sunday besides attend church, but we have found that we do in fact miss worship. I am not missing preaching much at the moment, maybe that will come as time goes by. But I do miss worship. So it was special when the girls led us in an impromptu worship service this afternoon at a tiny country church right along Hadrian’s Wall.
We spent some time at Chester Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall. The Roman Wall is an incredible piece of history. Today the girls played in the ruins of barracks and bath houses that were constructed around 130 AD. After enjoying a lovely warm, sunny day at the fort we headed back towards Hexham. Along the way we stopped at St. Oswald’s Church at Heavenfield. The church is located on the site of a battle that took place in 634. Oswald, the son of a previous English king of Northumbria, had been exiled when his father was killed. He was converted to Christianity by the monks of Iona. Oswald came back and defeated king Caedwalla at Heavenfield despite all odds against him. Oswald went on to be a major player in the spread of Christianity throughout what is now the north of England. He looked to Celtic monks to assist him in spreading the faith and so St. Aidan established the great spiritual center of Lindisfarne. St. Aidan and later St. Cuthbert served as pastors and spiritual leaders throughout the northeast.
But this afternoon the kids got it in their heads to lead a worship service in St. Oswald’s church. They sang songs, read Psalms from the Bible in the pulpit, and led a prayer provided to visitors of the church. Together we prayed:
Father in Heaven, thank you for bringing me here today.
Thank you for the peace and beauty of this place.
Give me your peace in my heart and in my life.
Thank you for the faithful people of the past,
and for the people who are special to me.
Help me to love all people, especially those who are hard to love.
Give peace in our world, and show me how to be a peacemaker.
Lead me in your way, and forgive me when I lose it.
I commit myself to follow you
and to live a life of love and truth, peace and justice.
Send me from here to live and work to your honour and glory. Amen.
For a few special minutes we had the chapel all to ourselves. Just the four of us and our loving Lord. On this Sabbath Sunday, as I live and breath the stories of such faithful people of the past and give thanks for many special people in my life, I pray for God’s grace to live each day in love and truth, peace and justice.