Four services, one desire – Edward Leigh MP

portrait-edwardleigh1I went to four very different church services over the last ten days. The first was at Polzeath in Cornwall, where we stayed for the weekend during half-term.

This had been an old Methodist chapel. Everyone was most welcoming. The service couldn’t have been more “modern”. “Happy-clappy”, my wife would say, although it was in fact very restrained. Not even a Bible-reading. But the most interesting thing about this church is that it’s called the “Tube Station”. The altar is in the shape of a surfer’s wave! The entire back of the church is taken up by a coffee-bar. Indeed, the church is a coffee-bar during the week. Before its transformation the church’s congregation was a mere handful. Now it regularly attracts 100 people during the summer.

The lesson: Christianity has to get out of its ghetto and find people in their interests. In this case, surfing. But Christianity can still stay true to its roots.

On Monday I went to a normal (i.e. vernacular) daily service at the Brompton Oratory. I like the Mass there, traditional, no frills, no sermon, over in twenty minutes. It was All Souls’ Day and there was a second and third Mass of the day, the latter in Latin according to the Tridentine Rite. One forgets how soothing the old Low Mass was. The priest with his back to one, no verbal audience participation. Just an encounter with the Eucharist.

On Thursday I was in Christchurch Priory for evensong. A glorious Anglican church, steeped in majestic architecture, but very simple prayers. One of the great gifts to world civilisation is the Anglican tradition of evensong. I always ask my agent to let me go to evensong in Lincoln Cathedral. He rarely lets me. He says the schedule is too busy. But one’s life should never be too busy to go to evensong in one of our cathedrals.

On Sunday I was in Gainsborough Parish Church for our Remembrance Sunday service. I’ve been going most years for the last 25 years. By about ten years ago, the congregation was dwindling and I thought as memories faded so would the service fade away. But recently there’s been a revival of interest as a result of our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The large Georgian church was packed. The service was very moving, with superb singing, particularly the prayers. Previously a bit formulaic, this time they were good, with a background of the chant “Peace I give you/Peace I leave you./Be not afraid”, almost like a Taize chant.

Religion, then, is not an abstract thing. It’s immensely calming and reviving within life. So let Richard Dawkins spend his millions on plastering buses with signs saying “There’s probably no God”. 

The insistent desire to meet Him and be close to Him is deep within most human beings – within all of us, the Church maintains. When we are thirsty we can drink, when we are hungry, we can eat. But why should so many of us hunger for something that doesn’t exist? And why should this hunger produce so much of the greatest art, music, poetry and architecture?

Maybe the very obsessiveness with which Dawkins denies God’s existence is a sign of the effort required to suppress such a deep human desire.

He exists for me, at least in my own mind, and perhaps on that Dawkins and I can agree.

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