Last Sunday afternoon, on the invitation of the Oxford Diocesan Chaplain for the Deaf, I travelled to Wendover (north of High Wycombe) to join in the Diocesan Deaf Church Harvest Festival, taking with me our new Methodist Deacon who is very keen to learn (and use) sign language which she enrolled to learn a few weeks ago.
I always enjoy this occasion and it is one of the highlights of my year. The service was held in Wendover Free Church and, in welcoming us, its Minister told us the history of the church. I had remarked to my Deacon companion that it was odd to find a crucifix at the front of a Free Church - but it wasn't odd after the history of the church had been explained.
Their Minister told us that the Wendover Free Church was formed when the congregations of the Wendover Baptist Church and the Wendover United Reformed Church decided to join together in one church, but neither of their buildings were suitable for the combined congregations. So the Wendover Catholics offered their building and this explained the presence of the crucifix, the Stations of the Cross and the statue of Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
There were also three stained glass panels from a window of the old URC Church. The new Wendover Free Church then signed a covenant with the Anglican Church in 2000. He then went on to explain that now on Sunday mornings the day begins in the Wendover Free Church with a Catholic service,then there follows an Anglican service and then the Wendover Free Church service. "Of course," he said, "we also have joint services from time to time as well." I heard no mention of a Methodist church in Wendover (to complete this ecumenical picture) but I found it thrilling to hear of these Christians working and worshipping together so well.
The inspiring preacher on this occasion was the Revd Gaynor Turner from Manchester and she decided to preach/sign about the Harvest of the Sea. She held up a model of a trawler and signed her question "How many men work on a trawler like this?" She had many signed answers - "Five." "Fifteen." "Twenty." "No," she signed, "Forty. And who do you think is in charge of those forty men and the trawler?" Someone signed, "The captain." "Well, the skipper", she signed, "and it is his job to make sure that all those men work together as a team, just as we mustlearn to work as a team to do God's work." Then she held up a tool, signing, "What do you think this is?" No-one knew, so she continued, "It's a tool for mending the nets which get big holes in them. The holes must be mended because otherwise the fish would escape." She went on toshow by signing what happens to the fish when they are caught and involving the congregation by asking if they had fish fingers or fish and chips, etc. recently. She left us in no doubt of the value of the harvest of the sea and the brave men who risk so much to harvest it for us. During the sharing of the peace which followed I suddenly found myself embraced by my niece who is a Signer for the Deaf in London. What a surprise! She had come because a few years ago she had been on a trip to the Holy Land with the Revd Turner and wanted to renew that friendship - and to see me.
During tea my Deacon friend was excitedly asking my niece and members of the Deaf Church "How do you sign ....?" She was just like a child who is learning to speak for the first time! Tea was followed by a signed auction of all the fruit and vegetables that had been brought and placed at the front of the church. This is always a very happy and amusing event. My Deacon friend bought a jar of crab apple jelly, the name of which puzzled a young man sitting near us. So he queried it, signing 'crab' and then 'apple', to send everyone into fits of laughter before he could have it explained to him what 'crab apple' is!. The auction also has a serious purpose because of the money that it raises. This year it raised £75 for Deaf children at the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf at Salt in Jordan run by Brother Andrew.
We had such a happy and inspiring afternoon but we were much quieter on our return journey when a sports car immediately in front of us suddenly had a puncture and spun off the road into the bushes at the side of the road. We stopped to make sure that the two men in the car were alright (although very shaken) and able to call for help before continuing our journey. It happens so quickly and without warning!