Bertha Lee was a retired teacher living in the village of Stoke Row near Henley and she belonged to a small congregation in Reading but her roots were at Todmorden In Yorkshire. Bertha had many friends including the Maharajah of Benares (who had built a well in the village) and Muir Mathieson the composer and conductor but it was some lesser-known people that Bertha valued more than any others. One day she gave me a treasured photograph of her beloved church in Todmorden and on the back were thirty-six signatures. On giving me the photo her expectations of a church were made clear, "The church is where we find our real selves, it brings out the best in us". That's what Bertha expected, found and helped to create, a place where people could find their real selves without any pretensions, status or creed.
The second person was the Reverend Dudley Richards who in his later years kept asking the question, "What is the church?" In one conversation I reminded Dudley that when I was eighteen years of age he had given me the answer. He then described the church as, "The beloved community" and until he died well over ninety years of age Dudley belonged to our beloved community in Oxford with some members visiting him in his nursing home every week.
The answers given by those two people still sum up for me what a church should be and one of Dudley's favourite passages of scripture was Romans Chapter twelve which describes the ideal Christian as a person who uses his or her talents to the best of their ability, shares those gifts with the wider community and rejects all evil. Such people should, "rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep".
The ideal church should be for everyone with people living in harmony, never being conceited and living in peace. They should feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and provide hospitality. Similar thoughts appear in many scriptures of the world and Dudley who was a fine scholar knew that.
If we follow the advice of my two old friends and that from the author of Romans chapter twelve then we will create a place for everyone.
However I add two provisos. I don't want people telling me that I am wrong and that they have the only truth! Nor do I want people who only take, without giving something of themselves.
Only together can we create a beloved community where people can find their real selves, a place that will bring out the best in people.
Rev Peter Hewis