I was asked to write something about my holiday from which we have just returned. Remember holidays? We went to South-West Wales and were able to get back to England without quarantine. It was an uneventful trip as far as Covid-19 is concerned.
We noticed what we always notice in Wales – closed churches! There were a number of former Methodist churches converted into houses. We also came across several active Baptist Chapels. We even ate fish & chips outside one Baptist Chapel as its rusty noticeboard squeaked in the breeze. Very nice it was too – the fish & chips!
And then we came across St. David’s Cathedral. The monastic community was founded by Saint David, Abbot of Menevia, who died in 589, so it’s been there a long time. And it was very popular with tourists. There were many candles being lit for prayers by these same tourists. Which is intriguing in itself, after the year or so we have had with closed churches and the inability to do things the way we have always done them. We have heard stories of people checking in to online services, with no idea how long they stayed. Those same people wouldn’t feel comfortable wandering into one of our services, yet they feel OK wandering round a big cathedral where there is no pressure to be involved. And the candles? From a low church perspective they seem unusual, but from a non-church perspective they are perfectly normal. These tourists (tourists in Wales and tourists in church) don’t know the language or the customs. They know they have needs; they have a vague idea about a vague God, and they have a vague idea that if they light a candle their vague request may be interpreted and hopefully even answered. And I thought about this passage from Revelation 8: 3 Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. 4 The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.
Maybe that is where the idea comes from (I’m not assuming these tourists have read Revelation); maybe somewhere deep down there is a God-shaped hole in everyone and maybe we should have a think about closed Methodist churches, rusty Baptist noticeboards and cathedrals that are welcoming to tourists.
I’m writing this after a 6 hour journey home, so I’m just asking questions. I don’t have any answers just yet, but how many tourists do we get in Milford on Sea? And how many of those tourists would look for God in our buildings? How many of us know how to change tourists into citizens?