This weekend Michelham Priory in my parish at Upper Dicker shall witness a historic event!
We are closing our churches to hold a big open air service of Holy Communion at 11am on the site of the original church which Henry VIII demolished in 1536, weather permitting! This will be as far as we know the first time Holy Communion has been celebrated there in 480 years!
It will be part of the Sussex Archaeological Society’s Medieval Living History weekend. The Priory is steeped in history and boasts England’s longest medieval water-filled moat, with a seven acre island in the middle with a magnificent Tudor mansion, 14th Century gatehouse, water mill, forge, Elizabethan Great Barn and all the usual attractions for visitors, like a shop and café.
With the dismantling of the monasteries it was a time of great religious upheaval. The Reformation was building up steam and Henry was declaring independence from Europe’s religious control. This upheaval led to many deaths on all sides of the divide.
The celebration of this Communion service is perhaps in some small way an attempt to bring some sort of healing by bringing God back into a place of pain and division. It is so appropriate at this time as this Sunday has also been commended to churches to hold an open air service in response to the countless churches around the world where Christians are still being persecuted and are being turned out of their buildings. Organisations like Release International work around the world raising the plight of and seeking to help Christians who are persecuted. In some parts of our world Christians are still being attacked and killed, churches are burned down and leaders are arrested and tortured.
It is perhaps hard in a country where people might decide to stop going to church on the basis that it doesn’t play their favourite hymns, or because the pews were taken out, to conceive that there are people worshipping on Sunday in some parts of the world at risk of at best public mockery or at worst - death. A statistic I have always been amazed and shocked by is that there were more people killed for their Christian faith in the twentieth century than in the whole of the previous two thousand years.
So this weekend I would urge everyone, whether you can come to Michelham or not, and whether you will be holding an open air service or not, (or even whether you have any faith at all) to pause for some time and consider those who have lost their lives in the cause of Christianity and offer up thoughts and prayers for those who still suffer.