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'Thin' Places

11 months ago

In this week’s Blog Archdeacon David Picken, former Chair of the ReSource Trustees, helps us to think about ‘thin’ places where God’s presence and reign break into our world, and then encourages us to pray that our churches might be ‘thin’ places where Jesus is encountered tangibly and contagiously.

I have just returned from a holiday in Dumfries and Galloway. It is a beautiful area - many of you perhaps will know it. One of the main reasons for going there was its proximity to Whithorn. Whithorn is one of those ‘thin’ places that people speak of. Now some of you may understand that term, some of you may appreciate it, some of you may struggle with it. Let me explain what I think we mean by it. A thin place is a place where we just tangibly sense that God’s heavenly reign has broken in in a particular way that makes a tangible sense of holiness present. Thin places are often in remote locations but sometimes can be in urban settings. It is difficult to explain why there are thin places but then it is difficult to explain sometimes why God chooses to act in a particular way and not in others, for example, in the healing ministry of the church. But let me return to Whithorn.

God’s reign breaking in

Whithorn is a relatively remote location overlooking the coast of Scotland, towards the Isle of Man and Ireland. It was a site for the ministry of Saint Ninian and in the area there is a cave of Ninian clinging precariously to the rocks and there is also a Chapel of Ninian on the Isle of Whithorn. However, it is not just in these two spots that one senses that tangible presence of God and the centuries of the prayers of the Church. There is a prevailing sense throughout the area that in some way this place carries with it a very clear and distinct sense that God’s reign breaks through into our world.

Now Christians already know that God has broken into our world already in the actions of the Cross and Resurrection. That is as true where I am sitting currently as it is where you are as you read this or hear this. It is as true in the middle of a scene of conflict as it is in a place of peace. Yet we need the places where we can withdraw to know that tangible sense to be part of our world and to recollect God’s Shalom – the peaceful reign of wellbeing in our midst. That said, how important it is that during this time of recovery after a dreadful 18 months that we can recognise God’s peaceful reign wherever we are. 

Encountering Jesus today

It is a very distinctive part of Anglican theology that we speak about being a Christian presence in every community, by which we mean parish ministry. My hope and prayer in the days to come is that we can rediscover that sense of calling to our nation not just as the Church of England but as the Church of God in these shores – that we can recall that sense that all our communities have something of the Whithorn about them. That when people encounter the ministry of God and the Church in these places, they encounter Jesus in a very tangible way. That will be through our prayers, through the way in which we lead people into that encounter, through worship (how we have missed singing!). However, it will also be the way in which we ourselves are expectant and hopeful that we the Church will daily encounter the reality of God’s peaceful reign.

Confident hope

My prayer for the Church at this time is that we will step out with a confident hope that is faithful. Confident in the ministry to which we have been called, and that in old ways and new we will tell the story of redemption that all may come to know the ‘thin’ nature of the distance between the God who has come and dwelt among us and the world which can, frankly, sometimes seem a somewhat dark and forbidding place. For if we do not proclaim that hope with confidence and expectation who will?

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"What you gave us was just what we needed – enough teaching to focus our minds, and enough space to process where we are at, and all held together by the security of your prayer for us. I found it a truly renewing and refreshing experience; and I was particularly struck by your thoughts on wrestling Jacob in the last session. I am always so grateful for what you give us, and for your ongoing prayer for us all; we are blessed indeed to have your care and support."
Rt Revd Dr Michael Ipgrave Bishop of Lichfield