Open Doors, Open Hearts
It is almost a year since St Peter’s opened its doors daily to visitors. There is a growing movement across the Diocese of London to keep churches open. I’m glad to say we’ve been one of the churches in this part of London that has helped to lead the way.
After a number of years of experimenting with different patterns of opening – with church sitters and church watchers – the PCC decided to take the plunge and open daily without the support of volunteers to mind the place. There is a dedicated Open Church team helping to open and close the building when needed and thanks to the churchwardens, servers and sacristry team, everything of obvious value is stored away. I am happy to report that apart from some pilfering of candles and kitchen stuff, there have been no major difficulties.
I reckon we get around 50 visitors a week, some who come regularly, some just once. They are people of all ages from all parts of the world – Sydney, Chicago, California, Helsinki, Shanghai, Nova Scotia, Perth, Bolivia, Bogota, France, Spain, Italy, Romania, Ireland and Suffolk. Some are visiting family and friends, some are researching family history or revisiting significant places on a special family occasion – 80th birthdays, golden weddings. Most visitors live or work locally.
Quite a number of people each week feel moved to leave a message in the Visitor’s Book. In the past year, we have collected over 200 messages – some are repeat messages from a handful of regular visitors, some are from people attending particular events – concerts, exhibitions, funerals.
“You have no idea how many times Gods blessings have been showered upon us all.”
There are poems and prayers, drawings and emojis. People pouring their hearts out to God or to anyone ‘out there’. People communing with loved ones. Those sheltering from the rain, mothers trying to soothe fretful babies, gardeners looking for vegetable canes, people who come to play the piano, or to read or think. The words most often used are: beautiful, peaceful, calm, warm, sanctuary, thank-you, God bless. They nearly all express profound gratitude to the people of St Peter’s for opening the doors.
You have no idea how many times Gods blessings have been showered upon us all.
I wish I could read you all the messages. I find it impossible to edit the voices – to pick the cleverest, the most poignant, the most interesting, the funniest (I’ve been moved to tears and laughter). The quietest ones are the deepest. Like the 26 year old who came for calm on their birthday – I came here for calm on my 26th birthday. Thank you. There’s a rhythm to the flow of the voices that I can’t interrupt. It’s too holy.
If I had to choose just one to treasure, I think I would have to pick this one – I’m Doris Coghill. I’m 90 years old in November. I was married in this church in 1947 to Alex Coghill. I was Doris Golledge. I’m here today with my son David who was christened here. David is now 64 years old. It was nice to come back and find that nothing seems to have changed.
On this Feast of Candlemas as we celebrate the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, let us give thanks for everything that this holy place, St Peter’s, offers each one of us who enters here. And let us ask for God’s blessings on all who enter here, as they also bless us.