By Val Morrison
…….. on Pentecost Sunday when I was at Elswick United Reformed Church for their 364th anniversary. I had not been to a church with this length of history and there was a feel of an old fashioned church anniversary about the event. Not because the church was backward looking but because of the sense of history and the continuing sense of this being a church which was very much a part of the community – it being the only one in the village. The church is situated in a village outside Preston – the result of the Five Mile Act of 1665 which prohibited any ejected minister from living within five miles of a corporate town or any place where they had previously served.
The present church building is Victorian but on the site there is also the original church building – constructed in 1753 as well as a modern hall which was built in 1998 and serves the church and local community in the 21st century.
Today the anniversary service is attended by people from surrounding churches and the local community but in the past the numbers required a marquee and three sittings for tea!
The tea is still a significant feature of the day and the custard tarts are, I was told, ‘legendary’. Photographs of Victorian ladies sitting on the gravestones in the surrounding graveyard give something of the atmosphere.
On the day I was there the sun shone and before the service there were groups of people sitting chatting and enjoying the sunshine or wandering through the graveyard and exchanging news with people they had not seen maybe since the last anniversary.
As we thought about the message of Pentecost – that wind and those flames – we recognized the mystery of all of that but at the same time recognised that like those first disciples we have received the Holy Spirit. Jesus ‘breathed on them’ and he has metaphorically breathed on us so that we may in turn breath on others as we engage in the work of speaking, healing and loving – spreading the breath of the Spirit. One of the messages of that day in Jerusalem is that God’s Spirit is for everyone and one of the other messages is that taking that message to people involves risks, putting ourselves in uncomfortable places. This church, like many others with a similar history, grew out of the dissenters willingness to put themselves in uncomfortable and challenging places on order to ensure that no-one was denied the message – we have the history and we have the tradition, what we need to do is to continue our part in the work of the Spirit, take a breath, take God into ourselves, breath out and give God back to the world again with some of ourselves attached. And as we breathe remember that this is God’s moment-by-moment gift to each of us. A gift beyond our understanding but as close to us as our next breath.