He is said to pass down the lane which ends at his house at 9.20 am, an hour and forty minutes before the 11 o’clock service. After turning out of the lane, the journey to the church takes around ten minutes, allowing him to arrive by 9.30. The early arrival is considered a piece of gentle eccentricity among other worshippers; what preparation for the morning service could there be that could take an hour and a half, a period of time twice that of the morning service, which generally lasts forty-five minutes? No-one would question him, though, the church building is an important part of his life; its internal and external well-being are treated with an importance equivalent to that with which he would treat his own personal health.
The diligent care of a country church would be regarded as anachronistic by leaders of many of the new churches. Voices from the urban centres would talk of the need to close such buildings, of how many more resources there would be if so much money was not spent on the upkeep of such places, of how much better everything would be if everyone gathered in a single church. Perhaps they are right, though empirical evidence shows that when such paths are pursued, many of those whose families have attended the church for generations simply disappear.
However, there is a much deeper value in such rural places that is missed by those who perceive them as buildings to be measured in terms of fabric and funds. To men like the one who passes down the lane from his house at 9.20 am the plain Protestant church to which he devotes so many hours is a place of holiness. Places are hallowed not by architecture or furnishing, not by the quality of the music or the refinement of the liturgy, they are hallowed by the prayer and the faith of the people.
If I were the man, perhaps I would similarly spend such a time in preparation, not that there is much to be done, but that there is a proper spirit in which to do things. Worship in Scripture is never casual or careless, it is never sloppy nor is it slipshod. Worship is giving God his worth; what worth of God is expressed if there is not preparation and seriousness?
George Herbert’s hymn Teach me, my God and King includes the lines ,”Who sweeps a room, as for thy laws, Makes that and th’ action fine.” George Herbert would have understood those who would arrive at half past nine for a service at eleven o’clock