Swanvale Halt parish has a history of involvement with ecumenism, the effort to foster positive relations between Christian denominations. For some years the parish housed the Swanvale Sisters, a group of women dedicated to praying for inter-church unity which had been established by a former deaconess of the Church of South India, and the sisters often came to address the congregation. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of our sharing the church building with the local Roman Catholic congregation who squeeze their Sunday mass in between our two.
A little while ago we hosted the local King’s Church for a couple of events, and out of this came a suggestion to our curate that it might be a good thing to get together to pray for the village and its concerns. And that’s what she’s done. The group has been meeting for a couple of months and last week I went along for the first time.
The composition for that event was four members of local Charismatic congregations, four Anglicans, and one Roman Catholic. The experience is not entirely an uncomplicated one as the Charismatics tend to be vocal in their prayers and the Anglicans tend to incorporate more silence. I can let it wash over me to a certain degree, and doing some thinking about it came to see the sort of torrent of words you get with Charismatic prayer as being in some sense a groping after the same suspension of ego and the seeking of God that absolute silence aims for – a different kind of silence. Not everyone can manage that, though. We’ve had a couple of members of our church who’ve tried this group and have decided not to come back. You have to be very robust and settled in your own prayer life not to be disconcerted by a different style. For me the only very hard moment was when a member of the local Free Evangelical church who our curate didn’t know and who had never been to the group before began praying about the Eastern European care assistants on the staff of a local home where she works – ‘They’re often staunch Roman Catholics, Lord, and we just pray that you will enable them to be released from their darkness’ – unaware there was a Roman Catholic sat yards away from her. There will have to be some ground rules set down (such as no praying against other Christian Churches), and some minimal structure placed on the proceedings so that silent silence doesn’t get squeezed out.
That said, our two lay Anglican attenders were entirely comfortable with the way things went. One, Mary, is a former Companion of the Swanvale Sisters and commented later ‘while I have previously experienced the Charismatic Movement from time to time, nevertheless it was not in conjunction with other Christian Groups, so this is a very unique venture that we’re fostering, and we will stick with it!’ Plus it’s worth remembering what a journey into the unknown our Charismatic colleagues are taking – walking past a statue of the Blessed Virgin with a candle next to it and praying in a chapel beside an altar surrounded by Gothic arches and with the Sacrament reserved in an aumbry in the wall.