Sitting at the back

Pleasant rays of paschal sunshine warmed the medieval building. The clear leaded glass of the south side of the nave has filtered eight centuries of light.

It is more than half a century since a scrawny undersized schoolboy first sat in pews that offer little by way of comfort.

Being sixty-one and not seven years old meant a freedom to choose where to sit, a freedom that would have been unthinkable for a primary school child under the eye of a teacher who had qualified in the early-1930s. The back pew would have been uncomfortably close to the organist, but the organ has long since gone, its replacement an electronic device in a corner of the chancel behind the rood screen. For his senior counterpart, the choice was instinctive, to sit as far back as possible.

Dating from 1476, perhaps it was the rood screen that started the train of thought. Or perhaps it was the fading notice that has hung on the wall in the baptistery for the whole of my memory. “Norman Font, 1100-1135:” the words always intrigued a schoolboy. The boy would wonder why if the dates could be as precise as 1100 to 1135, then why could they not say what year the font had been placed in our church?

It is decades since I had seen the church so filled, including a sprinkling of children from the village school. Perhaps the reaction to the Covid lockdowns has included a re-engagement with community activities. Perhaps real life, in person encounters have become preferable to the world of Zoom and Teams and the platforms of the social media groups.

In the silence that followed the Communion, a strange calmness seemed to fill the air. The aged hamstone pillars of the nave exuded a confidence, a timelessness. A thread of cobweb hung in the sunlit air, unmoving in the stillness. For a moment, it could have been 1967 or any other moment in the time since. Had I turned and seen the boys from my class sat beside me in the pew, it would not have been a surprise.

The reverie was broken by the realisation that such moments were finite, that it would seem no more than a moment before I would be no more present than were those whose fading names declared their presence beneath the stone flagged floor.

It seemed a happy thought. To stand in a tradition where time is an instant and in which every moment is present. Perhaps resurrection is to remain forever in a single such moment.

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