Apart from the Spiritualist church next door and the Charismatic church up the road, All Saints appears to be my local.
I had not planned anything for Palm Sunday, so when my friend and neighbour Emily invited me to join her family at All Saints it seemed kind of perfect. I had even overestimated how long it would take to get there and arrived early; how smug was I?
Strangely though, we were all 5 of us not allowed into the church, but herded like sheep into a small courtyard next to the building. I stood bemused for a while – having forgotten that Palm Sunday was the ritual humiliation of anyone not given to public displays of religion.
An excitable bunch of folk led us through the Palm Sunday story, donkey included. Ours was a young girl dressed in a grey robe with an impressive papier mache head. Apparently some vicars insist on real donkeys for a proper Palm Sunday service; I felt short-changed. We wandered the streets for a while, to the tune of a pipe and drum. I felt rather like someone on a political march at one of the quiet points, when the recent spate of shouting has stopped and everyone’s waiting for what slogan to shout next, but not wanting to start it.
Eventually we got back to the front of the church again, my cynicism sated, almost. I was loving the range of enthusiasm being shown by everyone around me – some had bought into it, others were just waiting for the weird stuff to be over so they could get back to normal. Feelings no doubt being expressed across the country.
The service itself is high church Anglican. There is a beautiful choir and a fair spattering of incense. Emily was dragged away by her 3 year old to Sunday School. Dave, me and 9 month old Rosie processed in, trying to cope with the high-pitched key of the first hymn.
I learned something new that day: it is very difficult to concentrate on a service when you’re with a baby. Especially one as gorgeous and animated as Rosie. At one point during a reading we fenced with our Palm Sunday crosses. Well, I parried etc, she just gurgled. The sermon was probably quite good, I can’t say I heard most of it, entranced as I was with Rosie’s ability to dribble at will.
This is a remarkably inclusive church. There is a L’Arche community nearby, and for a West Dulwich parish there is a wonderful variety of people from different ethnicities. When the kids come back from Sunday School, they have an area to the right of the nave with small tables, chairs and crayons galore for children to be kept busy. Emily sat near us while Martha ran a quiet riot between the columns. The fact the children are allowed to be so close to the action, while remaining free to just be, is also more inclusive than most. However, they have real coffee in cafetieres at the end of the service – sometimes you just know you’re in Dulwich.
After church we made our way back to Emily and Dave’s. Aside from being back in Eastbourne, this was the first time I had been at a church where the Sunday morning service evolved into a Sunday lunch. It reminds me of the spirit of Early Christian communities as described in Acts 4:32
All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.
Idealistic perhaps, but sometimes the simple act of sharing meals together can evoke a greater purpose. Besides, I’d been boiling up condensed milk for banoffi pie until 1am, this was the highlight of my Lent so far!
Emily is a radio producer and very talented documentary maker, Dave has sold out to corporate marketing and is part of Daddy-Rock band The Effras. Needless to say, they are brilliant company. I ask them what they think of All Saints and it seems the high churchiness is far more Dave’s bag. While chatting with Emily I realise I may have been hasty suggesting that your personal support structure helps find a place within the church family. There is more to it.
There will always be compromise, whether it be worship style or service structure or journey time. Or feeling as if you belong.