An Empty Pew

An Empty Pew

I was away from home on Pentecost and decided to celebrate this significant  feast of the ‘birth’ of the Church,  in a country town close to where I was staying.    The town boasted a beautiful Cathedral which I had visited a number of years ago.   I set out early on Pentecost morning, wanting to make sure I got a seat, I recalled my last visit to the Cathedral, a few years back, when the pews were packed.

As I drove through the countryside, it seemed fittingly adorned for the Sunday celebration, glorious green rolling hills and fields, broken here and there by splashes of the golden colours of autumn leaves.   I arrived half an hour before the service and took my place in one of the front rows.

As I waited for the pews to fill, I found myself reflecting on history and change.   The original high altar, set against the front curved wall of the Cathedral, once the central focus of services,  still remained, decorated with tall candles in their ornate candlestick holders.   The smaller altar, closer to the congregation, was set with more candles and red flowers for Pentecost.   The sunlight streamed in through the figures in old stained-glass windows, lighting up the altar rails with their soft communion kneelers.  I wondered how long it was since anyone had knelt there to receive communion?

The chiming of the bells brought me back to the present, my pew was still empty, there was only one person in the pew in front of me.   As I stood awaiting the entrance of the priest, I looked around and realised the Cathedral was only a quarter full.   The priest cut a lonely figure as he arrived at the altar, I felt an overwhelming sadness, a deep sense of  ‘brokenness.’  I felt the sorrow of those who have left, those who feel they no longer fit or feel welcome, those who, for whatever reason, were not there packing the Cathedral on this special feast.  I stood, close to tears, but suddenly, from somewhere in the unseen choir loft, I heard a woman’s voice so exquisite that my heart lifted.   When she sang the psalm, of how God’s Spirit gives life, I unashamedly wept.

The homily sounded somewhat ‘scripted’ and the words a little weary.  Loyalty to the Church was mentioned a couple of times, yet were we not the converted, those of us who had come that Pentecost morning?    The hymns were well known, familiar, yet they were enlivened by the loveliness of that one exquisite voice.

When the service ended, I felt no rush to leave, I wandered to the back to replace my hymn book, as I admired the beauty of the emptying Cathedral, shafts of sunlight still lighting the altar, I became aware that the sense of sorrow and brokenness had dissipated.   The piercing beauty of that voice had engendered hope!    I thought of the Spirit’s presence piecing the dark moments of human history always engendering life in unexpected places, I held onto hope as I drove away and once more marvelled at the glorious countryside.

Mary Robson

(Image from Pixabay by Tama66)