St. Paul’s Church, Shurdington, Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
When you travel outside of North America, the definition of “old” takes on an entirely different meaning. In my part of Western Canada, if you come across a building that is over 100 years of age, you would say it was old. No so in England, where “old” can refer to structures built more than a thousand years ago.
I was in England recently, and while there I had the opportunity to visit the village of Shurdington near the town of Cheltenham. Shurdington was the home of my grandmother Evelyn, who came to Canada around 1900. It was a thrill for me to walk down the same road that she walked along as a young girl. We had the opportunity to see Primrose Cottage, where she was born and raised.
But perhaps the highlight of the visit was to go inside the village church my grandmother attended as a young girl—the same church my relatives attend today. One can tell that not a lot has changed in St. Paul’s, Shurdington, since my grandmother’s time. This church was built in the 1200s on the foundation of another church that is dated to about 900. While showing me the interior, my cousin pointed out the plaque near the entrance, which listed all the pastors of the church from its inception until today. I can just imagine someone commenting, “Do you remember old Reverend Smith? His sermons were pretty boring back in 1483!”
It was a moving experience for me to sit in the church pew that my ancestors may have occupied. It made me wonder about those who came before me, whose bodies are now buried in graves around the church.
What kind of life did these people of faith have? What kind of hopes did they have for their families? How many friends did they have? What kind of work did they do? How long did they live? Most importantly, how did they relate to God and their life of faith in him? If only those stone walls could speak. I’m sure they would reveal some very interesting details about my family!
Although we as Christians have a personal relationship with God, we all belong to the community of faith that Jesus has drawn us into. Jesus said, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” (John 14:20). None of us is ever alone; we are one with God and one with each other (John 17:22-23). The community of faith we’ve been made part of is much bigger than the congregation we may attend. It is global. It also spans the sands of time.
Being in my grandmother’s church that morning reminded me of the words found in the book of Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
We’ve been welcomed into the eternal communion of faith created by our great God of love—into a great cloud of witnesses to the joy of life everlasting as the one Body of Christ formed by the Holy Spirit. We stand together in the same faith as all those who have gone before us, who are part of us today, and who will be with us forever into the future.