Last Friday evening Puff and I revisited an old church about 40 minutes to the northwest. We wanted to see if what we encountered on a Friday night a month or so earlier had been a fluke.
The church sits in the middle of nothing. There is nothing around it but trees and grass and rolling farmland. The interior looks to me as though the church is recovering from some rather bad renovations of the seventies and eighties. The walls are painted a kind of light purplish grey. There is a fair amount of stencilling but the colours are light pastels, so instead of popping out the stencilling just bleeds into the wall colour, faint and indistinct.
The sanctuary suffers from the same blandness as the rest of the church. The high altar has been removed, as have any paintings that may once have been there, and the only decoration is a large and beautiful crucifix. The tabernacle has been moved to right of the sanctuary, where I imagine was once a side altar, but I can't tell for sure. There is more of the stencilling around the tabernacle, but, as I said, it is indistinct. Oddly, there is no decoration on the left of the sanctuary save for a statue, so the sanctuary has an asymmetrical, unbalanced look. Had we come to see a beautiful preserved old church, we would have been disappointed.
But we hadn't. None of this is of any significance compared to the other things that we saw there, and the reason why we came. For on this Friday, like the other Friday night we had gone to visit this church, we saw the most amazing thing: people. On a Friday night about forty people had come to make this church to worship. The church appeared to be about a third full, or what my church is on a Sunday morning. They were of all ages, though it seemed most were fairly young and I saw quite a few families with teenagers. At church on a Friday evening. At a church that is in the middle of nothing, which means pretty much everyone there had to get themselves and their kids into their cars and drive there.
And- what was perhaps most amazing of all- I saw altar boys, four of them, serving the altar. Did I mention this was a Friday night? There were also four altar boys the previous time we visited, and that was on a Friday night in the summer. At my own church there were no altar servers for the nine o'clock Sunday morning mass for almost the entire summer, but somehow this priest and these faithful managed to pull together four boys on a weeknight. After Mass was benediction and adoration, as befits a first Friday. Almost everyone stayed for that, too.
The parish also serves two mission churches, which means that father is a very busy man. One of the missions is the home of perpetual adoration. It has been going on for some time.
Sometimes on a Sunday morning I look around my church and see it half empty or more, with most of the congregation elderly and very few families. It makes me fearful of the future. But this little church to the north gives me a glimmer of hope. There are people willing to take time out and spend it with God. And may of them are young and teaching their children to do the same. The priest and congregation of that parish are building something wonderful: a future.
And if they ever want to have a new high altar built for them, I know someone who has a little experience building small ones and would love the chance to do something bigger. For a reasonable fee, of course.