There were five of us at the Sunday evening service. It’s not such an unusual number in the Church of Ireland. A Catholic colleague complains when his weekday Mass attendance drops to a few dozen; I told him once that he doesn’t know what it is like to have a small congregation.
We read the ancient service of Compline this evening. It comes from the night time worship of the monasteries and is filled with a beautiful poetry, although obviously not beautiful enough to stir people from in front of their television sets on a bitterly cold and wet May evening (even if it had been warm and sunny, they wouldn’t have come).
The Scripture reading was from Exodus Chapter 33, the story of Moses talking with God in the tent of meeting. It was a good reading with which to finish our worship on the Day of Pentecost when we remembered the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Closing the door of the church with a heavy heart, our total attendance for the day had been just 74; I walked to the vestry to take off my cassock and surplice. There came into my head the tune of the hymn Come, Holy Ghost our souls inspire. It’s a beautiful Ninth Century hymn. I found a hymn book and went over to the piano and one-handedly tried to pick out the tune.
The music wasn’t tuneful, it probably wouldn’t have been recognizable as a tune to anyone listening, but it was enough. The Church had been through many dim and dismal moments since the words of that hymn had first been sung. There would have been black days and dark days and days of despair and days of hopelessness and days of utter desolation. There would have been moments when there was no hope, no meaning; no purpose.
Millions and millions and millions of people over the past twelve centuries would have counted themselves in heaven to be living in Ireland in 2007. Most of the world’s population would seize the chance to swap place with me, were it offered to them.
The few notes of the hymn that I managed were enough to change the mood. Serving God in one of the richest corners of one of the richest nations on the planet is a great privilege – it is not a cause for a heavy heart.