In the early hours of last night I found myself climbing the altar rail of a tiny dark rural church and shining a strong torch under the altar to see if anyone was hiding there. 

I was partially hoping they would be - because that would be the basis for connection, for an "in" - a start to what would no doubt have been a difficult conversation. And I was also holding the thought about how best to get a stretcher over the rail and how the peace and quiet of that small night-time church would be long gone when the clattering boots of the emergency services arrived.

I imagine that conversation would have been about societal failure, about being lost to oneself - and despair. Huge caverns of despair.  But in the end it was a conversation that did not happen- the altar stood bare and beneath was nothing. No graffitti- no crude dare-devil doodlings of some bored choir boy from long ago.


It was just a table.

I climbed back over the rail and after searching the graveyard and the cellar beneath the church we left to search elsewhere in the night.

The conversation we did have last night was whether it was ok. Was it ok to go in and search the church?

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Was it OK to go in? Our team of three was divided. Someone said that no it wasn't - they had no affiliation with that faith or any other and it was inappropriate. Just as it would be inappropriate for us to search a Synagogue or Mosque- someone else more appropriate would have to do it.

Another said that of course it was OK because it was necessary for the search.The religious aspect of any such buildings was totally irrelevant- the search came first as the missing person needed finding. Would he search a Synagogue or Mosque? - of course. He has no truck with faith whatsoever, and probably never will- but he was also mindful of the space we were in, asking that I make sure there was no mud on my boots before climbing the altar rail. 

I had no qualms- but then I have both a sense of belonging and of familiarity with Churches big and small. And I would search other religious buildings or indeed a private home. A building is not and cannot hold the Divine- and yet it holds a tradition- the longing and hopes of countless people over many centuries. And to that tradition, to those hopes and longings and to the Divine beyond...


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