Kirk Braddan

The Vicar's Letter

From the February issue of Branch, the Kirk Braddan parish magazine

From the Rev Daniel Richards

I found it slightly amusing to discover that Kirk Braddan was built 'on the flat'. So any time someone said 'the church has no foundation' I always finish by harmonising 'cept Jesus Christ, our Lord …'.

Even if Kirk Braddan was built 'on the flat', I am not worried a lack of concrete or ironmongery at its physical base means a bit of trouble with the brickwork or the roof. What matters is if people (particularly those who are not of our number) see and experience God here.

Which raises the story of Centralia; a Pennsylvanian coal-mining town that literally disappeared from view forty years ago. A fire in coal seams underground spread throughout the town, causing mass evacuation. A handful of structures are left, dotting open ground with a lonely main road: the odd house, an occasional municipal building, and one church.

Out of the five churches which once existed only the Ukrainian Catholic church remains, bright white and blue-domed, keeping sentinel over the road. Plans were drawn up in the eighties to knock it down while keeping the cemetery, as the state relocated the inhabitants to other towns.

But the Archbishop of the Ukrainian Catholics ordered a ground survey and it revealed that the church was unexpectedly built in the one place there was no coal seam: on solid rock.

As a metaphor for foundation, there are few which can compare. As Jesus told Peter that 'on this rock I will build my Church', so the Ukrainian Catholics took that as the motivation to not give up. And now, thirty years later, it still has a thriving congregation, despite no-one actually living very near. Families who grew up there remain invested in it. As was said: 'a church in a place with no people needs deep, strong foundations, or it crumbles'.

The story of Centralia's remaining church should serve as an inspiration to all Christians that a church lives or dies on the strength of its foundations: God in the people.

A recent report in the Church of England revealed again that churches are not as well-attended as the Victorian era, which is no surprise if all we appear to be are vessels of a bygone age. The foundations of the Church of Christ blossomed because Christians did not sit ruminating on lovely buildings. They got out into society as the people of God.

Churches today are learning (albeit slowly) that lesson: that if we take society and its people for granted then they move beyond our sight. When that happens, we are no longer representing God. We are no longer the Church. But, sometimes, the Church goes through seasons of this kind and relies on 'a remnant' (the Biblical 'few' who kept faith though times were hard) to make sure our foundations are built on God. That patience sees the harvest; when unexpected things of the Kingdom begin to grow.

For example, some years ago our monthly Messy Church (called The Bridge) had only a handful in attendance. But after sticking with it and testing what it meant for God to be in this community, last week we had a crowd bigger than some Sundays mornings! New faces, friendships and families responding to us putting community at the centre.

We should all take inspiration from the Ukrainian Catholics in Centralia, their dedication, and the knowledge of discovering they were built on solid rock: that when God is at the centre of a community, and community is at the centre of a church, God gives unexpected blessings as the centre of our foundation.