It was Easter Sunday and Trinity Church building was open for a service for the first time since Christmas Day morning.
The volunteer gardeners have kept the garden in good trim.
Flowers on the window sills round the church were lit up by the sun. We had the usual Easter Day hymns, most were videos shown on the screen, but Kate sang one live with Revd. Ian playing the piano. He also preached. The reading was Jesus greeting Mary Magdalene in the garden. She thought it was the gardener until he said ‘Mary’!
St. Helen’s Church in Abingdon has an Easter garden in the West Porch, made with spring flowers and moss and representing the tomb in the Garden of Gethsemane, with the crosses on the hill of Calvary behind it.
The garden and an Easter display can be viewed for a couple of hours on days until the 7th April. There are also bags of goodies for children.
The Independent dissenters would make their way in ones or twos to a shady tree lined place beside the River Thames, or a clearing in Tubney Woods. Their leader, Dr Langley, would be the last to join, and announce the opening hymn.
They claimed to gather under a higher law than the Act of Uniformity – that required them to go to the established church. The Independents felt no need of polished stones or painted glass. They said, ‘Light shines best in hearts made right with God.’
The Toleration Act of 1689 gave them license to meet at Dr Langley’s home in Tubney, and then a Meeting House was built and opened beside the Square in Abingdon – about the same time the Baptists and Quakers got their own place. It opened in the year 1700.
Men stood one side of a crowded gallery, women the other, with families in pews below.
An old ship’s mast held the roof. Some would claim the Pilgrim Fathers were powered through storms by that ship’s mast – chancing all on God. More probably, the mast came from a North Sea wreck that once carried a Minister of the church.
After a long week of hard work and a long walk to church, some villagers, in long smock coats, chose to stand – lest drowsiness rob them of a crumb of the truth they lived their lives by. Fisher, a farm-labourer; and aged Mr Doe would claim, ‘so long as legs can carry us, we will be here for the worship’.
The meeting house was enlarged with a classic front, and the older building became the school room. The celebrated preacher Charles Spurgeon preached to rapt crowds that day, and the ticket price helped clear the building debt. It was a day of unity. The Mayor and Rector declared that all were now working in the same faith.
The Independents became the Congregationalists and then joined with Presbyterians to become the United Reformed Church (URC). The Abingdon URC then joined with Trinity Methodists and left their old building.
Their old meeting house is now the Ask Restaurant. Some still claim that the ship’s mast could be from the Mayflower.
Summary written after reading Two centuries young : Abingdon Congregational Church 1700-1900 by Dr John Stevens. Phrases in quotes are directly taken from the book.
At Trinity the building was reopened for church services six weeks ago, after ensuring a Covid-19 risk assessment was in place.
People are socially distanced, and sanitise their hands on the way in, and mostly pre-book. Everybody registers. People wear face covering, and do not sing the hymns but listen and watch videos of hymns, or listen to the piano.
The service is only 45 minutes rather than an hour. The sermon, prayers, and readings are not very different. But because people are wearing face coverings the preacher does not get the same feedback.
Before the lockdown people would stay around chatting for up to another hour after the service, but now leave within minutes.
This week was harvest. There were displays of flowers, and a few fruit and vegetables. Normally there is a procession during the first hymn as people bring up tins and packets of rice and pasta to be given to a homeless shelter or Asylum Welcome. This year people donated money so that produce could be brought on their behalf for Asylum Welcome.
At Trinity, service sheets with sermons are sent out beforehand to people who are not able to attend. Other churches stream their services.