The friars’ Church of St. Francis in Stratford has existed as a worshipping community since the middle of the nineteenth century. The kindness and atmosphere of welcome that can be met here is the most convincing sign that the word ‘church’ means not a building but a gathering of sincere believers. The people are what make the Body of Christ a focus for God’s love.
Repairing any place of prayer that has persevered over decades is a familiar task. The inviting entrance was turned into a temporary building site. It became a reminder that our liturgies likewise have to repair the hearts, minds and souls of those who travel to be there every week. The photo conveys a poignant symbolism of the obstructions we place in the path of God’s merciful, life-transforming grace.
Celebrating baptisms, we tell the assembled families, in their fine clothing, that the building itself symbolises an entrance way into the community of faith. What we bring will not be simply our best dresses and suits but the generous gifts which we have from God, which we may have neglected to use caringly. Those who rarely visit a church need helpful words, to learn to ask what makes community – and Christian community in particular – something to treasure. Why is it important to join a community, build it up, defend its best features and even, in some places, to die for it? The reality is, we cannot make much progress in loving on our own.