Monday, April 5, 2010

A Country Church

There's a simplicity to life in much of rural New Zealand that appeals to me. I was brought up in the country (in rural Waikato) and while that appalled me as a child and then as a teenager, eager to experience faster, more exciting things, I now see the value in 'a quiet life.'
I had that reinforced for me a week or so ago, when I stayed with friends in the small South Canterbury town of Woodbury. They've carved out a very pleasing lifestyle for themselves - and, thanks to modern technology, they're really no further from 'the fast lane' (work-wise) than they ever were; yet they're able to tune out of the rat-race and into their small community, where pressures seem minimal and friendships fast.
All that, by way of a lateral introduction to St Stephen's Anglican Church in Peel Forest. My friend, Jane had taken me on tiki-tour of the area and, ever the church architecture fan, we stopped at the almost 'microscopic' settlement of Peel Forest to poke our noses into pretty little St Stephens - and yes, thanks to the trusting country locals, this is one little church that leaves its front door unlocked. As it turned out, we'd just missed the Palm Sunday service (advertised on a crudely written sign to encourage the locals along) and the pig ferns used to represent palm leaves, were still huddled in a corner of the church (above). Like a number of the churches in this area, St Stephen's is an all-timber gem, a place that reeks of history and exudes a serene kind of atmosphere that always sets me to thinking of things spiritual and meaningful - but not necessarily religious.
There's an honesty to these little churches that appeals to me - both architecturally and metaphorically. They somehow sum up a way of life that is all-but gone, that lingers on in tiny settlements, generally perpetuated by the older community members. Maybe I'm stirred by a sense of nostalgia - nostalgia for younger, simpler years when a small-town church was part of my family life. You rarely appreciate these things in childhood. It's only when you're older and have come to see the value of community and honesty; and the beauty of the small things in life, the satisfying daily rituals that perpetuate human history, that you think of worth, simplicity and meaning in a community.
We didn't stay long in the church, there was no need. But there was time enough to admire the stacks of red bibles on the entry shelf, the minister's robes hanging in a curtained alcove, the small-but-perfect religious icons, the stained glass windows, the woodwork and the handsome beams. I wandered off, wondering what thoughts the local people attending the morning's Palm Sunday service might have taken away with them - and whether or not they would be back the following Sunday to sit again in this peaceful, thought-provoking haven on the edge of the forest.

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