‘God is not confined to ancient buildings’ – Church column
By the Rev Ian Meredith, vicar of St Mary’s Church, Portchester
For the past month or so, the congregation of St Mary’s, Portchester has had to hold their Sunday services in the assembly hall of Portchester Community School while a new heating system is being installed.
Many people who join our congregation are at first attracted by the building.
There’s something special about walking through the gates of Portchester Castle, with the bell ringing, the blue waters of Portsmouth Harbour in the background, and sitting in a church where people have worshipped for almost 900 years.
So it was with some apprehension that I wondered how many people would attend our services at the school.
I needn’t have worried, because not only did our people keep faith with us, the numbers attending the services actually increased.
Perhaps it was the novelty?
But over the past few weeks we have enjoyed the extra space, break-out rooms, car parking in close proximity and a warm building in the middle of the community – so much so that some have asked, somewhat tongue in cheek, ‘Do we have to go back to the church, why can’t we stay here?’
The atmosphere of worship has not lost any sense of reverence for being in a ‘secular’ environment, and there have been treasured moments of spiritual encounter for many.
It has taught me afresh that God is not confined to ancient church buildings (nor absent from them), but that when people worship and pray, the place they are standing on becomes holy ground and sacred space.
Another blessing has been a real renewal of team work among us. I arrived at 7am to help set out the hall for our 8am Communion service.
I expected it would be myself, the verger and one or two others, but in fact there were about 20 people who had been there even earlier than me, getting the place ready.
St Paul wrote of the Corinthian church: ‘I am proud of you.’ (1 Corinthians 11, verse 2). Well, I am proud of you St Mary’s.
We move back into the church on March 17, but I reckon the school hall hasn’t seen the last of us.
St Mary’s Church is currently meeting in Portchester Community School, White Hart Lane.
Go to stmary-portchester.org.uk.