In 1995 I was asked to take charge of St Peter’s Church in Luton. Built in the 1960s, it was a small church, attached to a larger hall, to which we had to transfer for major services, carrying the altar and all the church accoutrements along a corridor. They had been without a priest for about six months and the congregation was tiny, but devoted. Gradually numbers increased, once it became known that there was once again a priest at St Peter’s.
We were fortunate to have uniformed organizations attached to the church and my first experience of a church parade was for Mothering Sunday. Our congregation swelled as cubs and scouts, brownies and guides, together with families filled our hall almost to capacity.
St Peter’s day was another major celebration, with masses of food provided after the service. We had to hold the youngsters back, or there would be nothing for the adults to eat! On one occasion the Bishop of Bedford was our guest preacher, and at my final service – for it seemed appropriate to retire on St Peter’s Day – it was the turn of the Archdeacon, for whom this service was also his last.
It was quite a close community, in one of the more deprived areas of the town and there were a number of activities, some sponsored by Luton Town Council, which rented the hall on several weekday mornings, and when line dancing became popular we decided to start a class, and hired a teacher – great fun and a good social activity!
One of the most memorable annual events held in the hall was the Guide Thinking Day. The congregation was invited and the hall was in semi darkness. There were numerous candles around the tables laid out in a square – one for every country where guiding took place. One by one we were asked to light the candles, naming the country each represented, until only three remained; one for the Chief Guide, one for guides of the past and finally one for the guides of the future. Afterwards there were the inevitable refreshments and then we were encouraged to join in the campfire songs.
One year a rather controversial poster was issued for Lent, a portrayal of Jesus based on a well-known representation of Che Guevara – Jesus the revolutionary. I displayed this in the entrance to the church, to remind our congregation that Jesus represented a challenge, not only to the people of his time, but to us also. That perhaps is particularly relevant today with the protests about the death of George Floyd, a helpless young black man and the firm affirmation that Black Lives Matter. How incredibly sad that a man has to die to raise the consciousness of humanity and begin to redress the balance.
So today, on the Feast Day of St Peter and St Paul, I remember with thanksgiving my congregation at St Peter’s and everything we shared together. May they continue to be blessed!