Visiting the Thin Places


arch-west-south-evening-e1372805053645In mid-September, the church’s website passed a milestone. There have been 100,000 visits to since its reconfiguration in early 2013. Technology makes collecting those kinds of figures easy. It is not so straightforward to work out how many people call in at Iffley church as visitors, as worshippers, as friends. And so at the end of August 2015, we conducted a two weeks census of visitors. During that time we saw 384 visitors to the church building. Extrapolated, this would give us 9,984 visitors in a year. Of course we would have to account for the cold months but on the other hand August can be a relative quiet month in terms of being holiday season for students, lecturers and many working people. The proportions were roughly equal – one third are local, one third are UK visitors and one third were overseas visitors. It is clear from the answers to our survey that it is the building itself that draws and impresses most people – with many references to the windows and arches and carvings. However, a significant proportion spoke too of the chance for reflection immersed in the special quality of silence that Iffley church holds. Many thanks to all who contributed to the census taking and to those who have compiled the figures. When added to Andrew’s figures for group visits and other activities in the last twelve months, a rather astonishing figure emerges. Over 10,500 caller visits are made to St Mary’s in the course of a year.

Bill Beaver and I have done some similar number crunching with the service registers. There were more than 3700 visits to baptisms, weddings and funerals over the year, and around 1000 visits to special services and events of others kinds. At our usual 8am, 10am and evening services, there were 5800 plus visits to regular weekly acts of worship. Altogether, and without fixing the figures, the total emerges of around 10,500 worshipper visits to Iffley. This was quite unexpected that the two figures – for visiting and for worship – should mirror one another in this way. It bears out our hunch that the church is the ‘other vicar’ in the parish, with a ministry of its own.

One precious part of the building’s ministry over the summer has been the prayer tree. We have for many years had the opportunity for people to leave prayer requests in church. You could fill out a pre-printed slip and pin it to the noticeboard by the organ. Since late June however there has been a more set apart space for prayer in the tower pews, on the south side near the spiral staircase. We have left a plain white tree there and blank slips of paper. People have been invited to write their prayers and use miniature clothes pegs to attach them to the tree. Something about this took off. The tree was literally covered with prayer requests throughout the summer months. At one point there were over forty pinned on, some of them not just two but three to a little clothes pegs. The Prayer and Toast team on Friday mornings ended up having to have longer breakfast to keep up I suspect!

Everyone is hungry for something. For some it is connection with heritage and with the arts. For others it is for peace in a busy world. For others it is an appetite for the things of God in the midst of our community. In the Celtic tradition, places that feed our hunger and our wonder are called ‘thin places.’ There one Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. How blessed we are that we share together such a remarkably ‘thin place’ in Iffley.

October 2015 – Sarah Northall

Visitors by selected countries of origin:
USA: 8
China: 1
Slovenia: 1
Germany: 6
Italy: 6
France: 5
Portugal: 1
Malaysia: 2
Australia: 20
Netherlands: 3
Belgium: 6
Bulgaria: 3
Ireland: 1
India: 2
Finland: 2
New Zealand: 3
Russia: 1
Romania: 4
Czech Republic: 1
Zambia: 1

Reason for visiting:
Architecture: 139
Reflection: 51
History: 18

Most impressed by:
Windows: 58
Piper window: 5
Wagner window: 1
Stonework/carvings: 35
Arches: 19
Norman/Romanesque features/architecture: 33