The Other Vicar

I first came across Iffley church in the autumn of 2011. I was in the final year of ordination training and the diocese invited me to come and meet Andrew McKearney to see if St Mary’s might be the place for me to serve my curacy. Once it was announced that this was where I was to come, it seemed to me that everyone who spoke with me knew of Iffley and the church building’s fame. I’m afraid that up until that point I had never heard of the place! I did not know that it is considered one of the finest unaltered Norman churches in England; I knew nothing of the beakhead carvings or Tournai marble; and I had never heard of the Piper window.

In the time that I have been here, I have discovered many features, many delights, of course. However, there is an irony I wanted to share. There are many, many people in our local community who find the deepest solace in Iffley church who know nothing of the west door’s significance or of the historical importance of the High Romanesque style. What they know of St Mary’s church is that they are met there by the presence of God. Andrew told me very early on that the building itself was another member of the ministry team in the parish. He has called it ‘the other Vicar’.

Of course, thousands of visitors come for the history and beauty of the place. However, there is some other thing, quite different as well. We really can’t put a number on it, but we see on the prayer requests and hear through passing comments that week by week people come into St Mary’s not only to immerse themselves in heritage, but to encounter God, seeking that quiet moment unseen, to lay down their hopes and fears amongst those living stones.