Walking to Church Again, Bristol, St Mary Magdalene's

Mini Walking Stories: Walking to Church Again


Mini Walking Stories is a project I’m doing this month to catalog what has been an AMAZING year of walking. Every day during December, I’m going to choose one photo and invite you to come along with me for a few minutes on one of the walks I took in 2022. Read more stories here.

Walking to Church Again, Bristol, St Mary Magdalene's

Walking to Church Again

Last Sunday, like on many Sundays, we walked through the fog and the rain to church.

Running late, we snuck into the back row of seats and joined in the singing at a service that was well underway.

The morning was dedicated to the confirmation of several young folks, which was wholly unfamiliar to me.

I should perhaps admit that my post-pandemic church attendance has come rather reluctantly. We had some experiences with church before the pandemic that I can only describe as traumatic, and so the pandemic was a strangely welcome pause in thinking about what to do with our Sunday mornings. (It feels insulting to call our experience a trauma when that term applies to events that are wildly worse than what we went through, but part of the way forward for me has been to name it.)

St. Mary Magdalene’s is an Anglican church. Our new home falls within its parish, and we can practically see her steeple from our street, so when we moved here in January, with mask mandates and social distancing still the order of the day, we decided that instead of repeating the rather awkward experience of visiting multiple churches, we would just go to our local Anglican church.

Taido is teaching at an Anglican training college here in Bristol, so it made some sense to attend an Anglican church, though we do not ourselves belong to the Church of England. Sometimes attending church here feels more like an hour of  anthropological observation than anything else, which honestly, feels ok at the moment. I am happy to be an outside observer, growing weekly in my understanding (or in my questions) around the Anglican tradition.

And so, the confirmation service was another tick in the box of previously unknown experiences for me, a mix of not knowing what is happening and scribbling down words and phrases from the liturgy that I can still affirm in my heart.

One of the best things about our new church is that we walk there. I love walking to church again, and walking back home. It’s a short walk, but still, walking there means I don’t arrive in a hurry, even if I am late.

Last Easter, we had family in town and I had made some walking plans that were going to mean we would miss church on Easter, something I probably would not have intentionally done five years ago. When I sent the plans along to everyone, Taido came back and asked if we could shift the days we were gone because he wanted to be in church on Easter. I bawked a little, but eventually changed the schedule so that we would arrive home on Saturday night before Easter morning.

Easter turned out to be a beautiful day, all sunshine, blue sky and bright spring green. During the service, a Christ candle was lit. The candle is a symbol of Christ rising from the dead, a reminder to us, the people of the light, that Christ has overcome the darkness of the tomb.

This past Sunday, at the confirmation service, this same Christ candle was brought out and lit. It is separate from the Advent wreath, which, of course, is also in play at the moment. (So many candles!) At the end of the service, after all the words were read and the people of the light were confirmed, our vicar (that’s the Anglican term for the pastor) lit each young person their own candle from the light of the Christ candle.

Then, before they processed out holding their candles, she said to them:

Walk in this light all of your days. 

It was at this moment that I was glad I had come. And also I was glad I had been in the room last Easter when that very candle had been first lit. I remembered how we stood in the sunshine afterwards in the churchyard taking photos. (And I remembered that spring will come again and I won’t always be so cold, walking in the rain and the dark.)

There is much in the church I don’t know what to do with these days. There are all kinds of beliefs I am questioning, and I am forever aghast at how the church has historically been and continues to be such a source of hate and violence in the world. I am even more appalled at my own part in that ugly dance.

But sometimes a moment is so inexplicably dear and true that I am able to grab hold of it afresh and let its light be enough.

I suppose another way of saying it is that I am more comfortable than ever before with how much I don’t know.

And so this week, I have this short sentence as a hopeful companion and also a meditation. And it is enough.

Walk in this light all of your days. 

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