Monday, 5 April 2010

A short walk in Hertfordshire

Blog written at 7.27pm Monday April 5th - Easter Monday

13.4 miles and my legs (mainly knees) are protesting. We walked from our Berkhamsted flat to Sunnyside Church, then on to St Albans Abbey for the Easter Monday pilgrimage.

The route is pretty in places - we chose to go along the canal to Boxmoor, then through the centre of the Hemel 'magic roundabout' and up the hill to Tesco (quick stop off to buy fruit and drink), and then through Leverstock Green. It was the shortest but not the safest or most scenic route, so next-time we may start earlier and follow some footpaths instead of the main road.

Leverstock Green looked spring-like and picturesque in a sea of daffodils - or should that be 'a host?'

An unexpected treat was being investigated by a red kite. It soared and circled over us for some minutes before I could get the camera out, and then lost interest and moved higher up in the sky. They are a joy to watch.
Much to my delight, when we arrived at the Abbey we met some people from Sunnyside and Bourne End who had travelled in by car, and we managed to find a quiet spot before joining the melee and discovering more parishioners in the crowd. There were friends from other churches in the diocese too, and then, the further we looked, the more people we saw from our neighbouring churches in the deanery. 

The grounds of the Abbey Orchard soon filled up, and by the time we came to process into the Cathedral it was clear that there were even more people present than in recent years.

We know the statistics tell us that there are more active worshippers in our churches each week than active football supporters at matches, and many of us are fortunate enough to see our own churches as vibrant and lively, but we are spread around in our parishes and don't often get that picture of the sheer numbers of Chrstians in the area - and that's only those who didn't have other commitments today. For instance fewer than 10% of our regular church attenders were able to join us today.
The queue to get into the building went on and on, and the service started with six hymns instead of three to give time for the people still streaming in to find a space.

So many people arrived that the nave of the Abbey was standing room only, and the crossover in front of the High Altar - where we ended up - was packed full. Some people even had to sit on on the steps of the High Altar.

I particularly love these events where the Cathedral is filled to the gunnels. Tourists were standing outside looking at the queues of people waiting to enter with their banners. It must have been a puzzling sight to the casual visitor, some were standing on the path just outside the Cathedral watching us wait to go in.  I wanted to invite them to join us.

As the Abbey was full-to-bursting, a general call went out for all clergy and readers to assist with communion. I think there were around 15 distribution points, each with one ciborium and two chalices. I had one chalice and people just kept on coming - it seemed like well over a hundred, maybe more, and I only got about one-third of the communicants at our station because of the flow of the crowd. Certainly I've never distributed communion to so many people so quickly.

What made it so special was seeing people I hadn't known were there, so the unexpected familiar faces in among the strangers made the atmosphere even more special. The verb 'communicate' has many shades of meaning.

The service was appropriate and fun, although as Bishop Alan explained, "You bet, we're up for it" may not make it into the next Common Worship as a liturgical response.

'The Choir' from South Oxhey, led by Gareth Malone, were featured in the service, but the acoustics are such that they were in the nave, and we couldn't hear them in the crossover, so they stayed behind afterwards and sang an extra song so those of us who had been in the crossover could come through to the nave to see and hear them.

There was a queue of people waiting to talk to Gareth and apparently he was going to take part in a photo-shoot afterwards. Not being particularly media-savvy I hadn't realised he had acquired the status of heart-throb. 

We however, had spotted our friends in The Choir and they had seen us too, so as soon as everyone was free to go there were lots of hugs and excited chatter, and introductions to some of the others (one of whom gave me his badge) before walking back to the car for a lift home, thanks to E and J.

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