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From the Archives

During the interregnum, we have delved into the Pelican archives for insights from out former clergy. In this last Pelican before the new Rector takes charge, here is a piece written by Alan Carr in September 2012, but which seems appopriate as we prepare for the season of Candlemas:

‘The Madonna of St Giles’

We kept Wednesday, 15th August as a feast day for Mary. As I came into Church to prepare the altar for the one o’clock Communion service, I noticed a woman’s slumped figure in the front row of the seats in the south aisle. Sleep and St Giles are no strangers to each other. Whether after a restless night wandering the streets, or out of the simple exhaustion of being in town, it’s not uncommon to see people with drooping heads or, more seriously, bedding down for the day. It’s mostly men, though, and never in the front row where they can most easily be seen. So this was different.

I looked across from the altar step to avoid intrusion. It was a younger person than usual, neither rough-looking nor unkempt. What’s more, even though fast asleep, she was carefully holding something on her lap, keen not to drop it. I looked a little closer. The little bundle was a child, presumably her child, and she a mother who had stopped for a moment while the child slept, or was fed, had sat down, and before she knew it (so I imagine) shared a moment’s slumber. Perhaps she too had been up all night, though for different reasons than usual. I was glad she could find a time and place for sleep. Standing by the west door just before worship ten minutes later, ready to welcome in the faithful few, she passed me going out, seeming refreshed; she looked up and smiled. Then the service began and I knew at once that Mary had already been here, and that the prayers we offered for the gift of the motherhood of Christ had been echoed in the gift of motherhood bestowed on our sleeping visitor.

At St Giles such moments of grace jostle with moments of sheer ugliness and indifference at every turn. You could find an example of every gospel character on the streets of this parish if you chose to look - the pompous, the brutal, the hedonistic, the flamboyant, the money-wise, the lame, the destitute, the simple, the complex, the street-hardened, the confused, the vulnerable young and old, the self-styled prophets, the modest, the shy, the connected and disconnected, the givers and the takers, the easy-come and easy-go, the thoughtful and the ones full of compassion. They are all there in the pages of the gospel Jesus walks through, and they are all here in the streets and alleyways of this city settlement, the ancient and contemporary as one. And yet, in the midst of such diverse restlessness, moments of un-sought grace and kindness also occur and are full of that humanity God calls us to live, enjoy and share.

‘Whoso is wise will ponder these things: and they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord,’ (Psalm 107, verse 43).

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