Keys to the kingdom


One priest tells the story of a man who broke into church to pray – and another replies with the story of a church that stayed open.

Last week, Giles Fraser wrote in the Guardian about a disconcerting moment when his church warden arrived one morning to find the door forced open. Inside, she found a man praying, surrounded by burning candles.

The first thing she noticed was that all the candles had been lit. And by all, I mean all. The main altar candles, the side altar candles, about 20 or so on the votive candle stand, the one in front of Our Lady, and so on. For a high church establishment such as ours, lighting all the candles is quite an undertaking. The place looked like a John Woo film set. And there, sitting a few pews up from the front, a solitary man sat still. He hadn’t broken in to rob or damage, he had broken in to pray. And judging by the amount of candle wax he burned, he had been there half the night.

They chatted. He apologised for the door. And then left.

Fraser, who is the Priest-in-Charge at St Mary, Newington, in south London, reflected that “there was much to admire in a man who had gone to such remarkable lengths simply to get into a church to pray,” remembering times when he had let himself into St Paul’s Cathedral at night to sit in the silent dark, and pray.

Responding via the letters page, a “friend and colleague” of Fraser remembered a church in another part of London where

the church council decided never to lock the glass-plated door fronting on to the street. We believed that a church may be needed just as much by night as by day. It was on the path of a good many tramps crossing Blackheath on the way to London. The sanctuary was lit. It cost us only the electricity.

Some came just to sit. Some to pray. A few to sleep. They caused no trouble.

Once, a processional cross went for a walk, but turned up on the banks of the Thames. Canon Paul Oestreicher admits that this was in the 1970s, and in a different part of town, but marvels that

on many a morning we could say “Jesus slept here last night”.

Featured image: St Mary Newington, where Canon Giles Fraser serves as Priest-in-Charge

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3 Responses to "Keys to the kingdom"
  1. Perhaps if congregations took steps to lock away precious babbles and to secure areas of the building that would be unwise to leave unattended, they could then leave more naves unlocked and open for the least of these to visit 24/7. Yes, it would take forethought, extra effort and maybe even a certain expense to bring it about, but it is doable. And I think Jesus would like it.

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  2. The Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit in Orleans, Massachusetts was consecrated on the Feast of Pentecost in 1933, since that date the church has never been locked, indeed has no locks.

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