In the Middle Ages, a church would build on a hill above the town it served. Partly this was for defense reasons, but also it was meant to invite the townspeople to look “upward,” to recall God’s presence. At night the sanctuary would have fires going, so it would be a beacon to travelers, letting them know that safety and shelter were nearby.
When it came time for Evensong, the evening service, people from the town would take lanterns, and wind their way up the hill, to the sanctuary. It’s a lovely image to imagine, this stream of light moving up the dark hillside, towards the place of worship. When the people arrived, they would hang their lamps on hooks around the sanctuary, to illuminate the space. When the service was over, they would take their lamps and the light would work its way back down the hill, into their living spaces.
The thing I like best about all this is that if someone was missing from worship, and another met them in the street the next day, there wasn’t a list of questions about where they were and what they were up to. But one neighbour would say to the other, “We missed your light.” It’s a beautiful reminder that when we gather for worship, each of us brings a light that helps to illuminate the space and light up the community. It’s not about finger-wagging, but a simple acknowledgment that no one is incidental to the church.
Thanks for sharing your light.