20 August 2008

Memories of Horsecastle

Horsecastle Chapel is a free evangelical fellowship in Yatton, North Somerset, England. It has its own building, a modern, purpose-built structure.

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But before the new building was constructed, Horsecastle Chapel occupied an older building on the corner of Horsecastle Road (now Horsecastle Close) and Wemberham Crescent. The image shows that original building, now in alternative use.

When Judy and I first joined the group of Christians meeting there, the old Brethren origins were still evident. Something we loved right away were the 'Open Meetings' held once a month on Sunday mornings.

We would gather in the large, square meeting room, the raised platform at the front was unoccupied, there was no invited speaker, nobody presided over events. We arrived, said 'Good morning' to one another, sat down in our seats, and quieted our minds. After a while someone would pray or read from the Bible, someone else would say, 'Let's sing hymn number 128', someone else would teach from a Bible passage.

These meetings were always orderly and respectful. There were no prophecies, no tongues, such things were unheard of in these circles and the accepted view was that they had passed away for good after the Bible was completed.

But in every other way the old 'Open Meetings' allowed the Holy Spirit free access to prompt any man to share (eyebrows would have been raised, I think, if a woman had presumed to speak in the meeting). Nonetheless the Holy Spirit was present and active and we had such amazing times, knowing in our hearts that things were moving along the right lines even if they were not quite as 'open' as we would have liked.

Sadly, we arrived at a time when these meetings were already dwindling away. After a year or two of this wonderful first taste of organic, participatory meeting, the decision was made to close them down completely and invite preachers from other assemblies to come and speak instead.

We recognised even then that these meetings were wholesome. We sensed that the freedom, even though incomplete, was all the Spirit needed to deal directly with us. We also knew that his active participation in the body was missing when an invited speaker brought a prepared message and a list of hymns to be sung. It wasn't that the Spirit was absent from the preparation or delivery of the message, nor from the singing of the hymns, just that he wasn't leading that sort of meeting because we were leading it. A meeting cannot have two leaders - either we do it, or he does it.

And today, the truth remains the same. Men and women were not made to be head of the church, nor head of a church meeting. That is the Messiah's place and his alone. If we want to run the meetings he won't prevent us, but he will not be fully present either - not because he chooses not to be, but because we don't let him.

It remains as true now as it was in the '70s. When we choose to give him the freedom to do what he wants we will experience his awesome and glorious presence. It's true of our individual lives, it's true of our lives shared in community. The choice is ours - do we want him to make the decisions or do we prefer to make them ourselves? I choose him - how about you?

Additional note - Brethren assemblies had many things right, if you are part of the current move towards organic church you will find this interesting. There's little in this world that is truly new.

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