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Celebrating the Solstice

by glynch — last modified 25 Jun, 2014 07:30 PM

Hundreds pack North Wilts church for arts and worship festival in the shadow of Neolithic stones

Bishop Edward Condry opened the Second Summer Solstice Arts and Crafts Fayre in Avebury on Thursday 22 June with a message of community, creativity and new relationships within God’s love. Most of the exhibitors and volunteers had already been in St James’ Church in the North Wilts town all that day, and the previous evening. 

An experiment in community mission last year had resulted in over 1000 visiting the church to see the work of creative artists, illustrators, writers and crafters, and over 300 people finding an oasis of peace for prayer and healing in the Sanctuary. 

This year, fourteen local artisans and musicians took part in a three day event that included feeding of the body offered by four of the Benefice Churches, and feeding of the soul in the form of Celtic morning and Evening Prayer, a space for prayer and vigil for the healing of the world, set times of Inter-faith Worship using a carefully shaped liturgy that was centred in Trinity and used language and prayer that transcended boundaries and offered all comers experiences of using sound bowls and voice to worship the Creator. 

Some 40-50 people attended each act of worship and, at the end of the three days, some 60 adults and four children gathered for a unique Songs of Praise where the Sermon on the Mount and Psalm 150 formed the basis for shared readings reflections and worship in song. 

Musicians Kerri McKenna and Tom Blower and Matt and Petra Hopwood added their skills to encourage us to sing about God’s Wonderful World. Authors Jean Hext, Angela James and Ian Pillinger shared from their own writing stories of healing and wholeness that transcends our earthly understanding of how God works. 

As the Peace was shared by Christians, Pagans, Buddhists, and others whose paths are less defined but no less valued in God’s eyes, we were led in song by two remarkable men, Gordon and Fred, from another faith tradition, who reminded us to 

“Stop your bickering and fighting, back stabbing and back biting, for in it there’s no delighting when we are together – may our hearts in union be, may our hearts be joined as one...”

 Encounters with ‘Christ in a stranger’s form’ included:

  • a Jewish couple asking for a blessing on their sixteenth wedding anniversary
  • a man told elsewhere that he could not be loved by God because he had sinned being reassured of God’s love and forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation
  • a family who had lost their mother weaving their sorrow in a tapestry frame supported by a worship steward who, that day, was grieving her husband’s death on what would have been their wedding anniversary
  • a vet offering consultations to people who might not otherwise afford it
  •  a Coptic Christian visiting from Africa who knelt in prayer before the Summer Wreath of vegetables, and wild flowers and greenery woven by all faiths together in homage to the God who breathed life into all things
  • Indian Christians and Hindus sitting side by side with the homeless, and
  • the Travellers who lit candles for the healing of creation.

 Marcello from Brazil said, 

“I was passing the church and I heard the voice of an angel and I came to the Christian God for the first time.”

Several visitors returned several times and over 45 gathered for the very first Open Mic @St James. The youngest performer was Jordan, whose courage in starting again when he lost the words was legendary. A father sang a song because he loved his son, and Avebury vet Lizzy Seidel, grieving her dog, Luca, read a poem entitled The Hound of Heaven.  A young couple sang of their love for each other, and a story from the Romany tradition of a child who tried to steal the nails that wounded Christ reminded us of the God whose blood outpoured for all, bar none.

There were those who felt uneasy at the warmth and love and openness and family that transcended faith, colour and social status but they were few and were largely puzzled at how through the Light of Christ strangers could become ‘as one’. It is also worth noting that alongside the events in church another group bridging the Christian and Buddhist world spent a full 24 hours in prayer and devotion - the sixth part of which was devoted entirely to filling the world with the light and peace of Christ to which the Rector was invited, and in turn they came to worship alongside the congregation.

In the words of one participant: 

“There is no going back to how we were before this weekend. We are now one family. Our paths may weave separately in our faiths but there will be more time when we come together. We have more in common than we hold in difference. Merry met, merry meet and merry meet again.”

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