In recent years many churches of the Church of England have been opening their doors more often for occasional callers to find peace and quiet. The churches are encouraging a message of welcome to all, and in some cases a particular welcome to individuals who seek a sacred place to be still, to refresh their souls, and to pray.
Of course such churches are not just confined to England within the Anglican Communion. In other countries and places the importance of an open church and a welcoming spiritual space is being valued. As this develops churches are also introducing simple helps to pray. In some cases candle stands, prayer stones, or a prayer tree, are found. Many places have some means by which people can write down a prayer request and leave it in the church.
For some churches a statue or icon of a saint, and particularly Mary, has become a focus for private prayer and welcome. Of course not all Anglican churches have statues or icons, or would wish to. However many do, and these churches frequently find an opportunity to light a candle at a statue as a sign or prayer, or a request for prayer is welcomed by the visitor.
This is certainly true at St Chrysostom’s. Candles are frequently left burning at Mary’s statue. The statue, replacing an earlier, smaller one, was the gift, many years ago, of a nearby parish, and a churchwarden’s grand daughter restored and painted it to the form it is today. The statue itself has become an important part of our church, our welcome, and indeed of our community. So much so that when it was suggested, a few years ago, that it be replaced by another the idea was rejected – ‘We have grown to love this image,’ was said.
Of course what is true for us at St Chrysostom’s is true in other Anglican churches too. For example, two members of our church have commented on the statue of Mary at St Mary the Virgin, Times Square, New York. The statue there, by the leading US wood carver Johannes Kirchmayer (1860-1930) is very striking. As with our statue at St Chrysostom’s this statue of Our Lady helps give a maternal welcome in that church, and indeed helps shape the community welcome of the church.
As one of our church members remarks: This statue of Our Lady reminds me of the warm welcome of a friendly congregation on cold winter NYC Sundays.