Update 16th May 20 – In the footsteps of our Chapel forebears

Dear Members and Friends of Godalming Unitarians

Whilst a few of you may have returned to work this week, and some of you may be enjoying the extended periods of outdoor exercise and chance to meet 1:1 with friends, sadly our Chapel building must remain closed for now. But whilst our doors may be closed, our hearts remain open to each other and the wider community. Whilst I miss meeting in our peaceful Chapel, our online services have enabled us to welcome people from near and far; Unitarians from other congregations, old friends who have moved away, and newcomers who I’ve not yet had the pleasure of meeting in person. We are learning to ‘do church’ differently and this is being replicated up and down the country, across all denominations and faiths. These times are reminding us that a faith community is not just about bricks and mortar, but about the invisible bonds of friendship and shared concerns that still connect people when they are apart.

Chapel photo 2     Chapel photo

Pondering this, I’ve been reflecting on the history of Meadrow Chapel. The dissenting forebears of the General Baptists who built our Chapel, had previously met secretly, in barns and kitchens; in a time of religious ferment and intolerance, there was danger of arrest and imprisonment. Still, they responded to the challenges of their age and found ways to be together. During 2 World Wars the Chapel community faced different challenges. In WW2 some of the organisations using the School Room (now the Chapel) could no longer meet, as no lighting was allowed to be visible after dark, and they could not afford to black-out the large windows. The youth group became sadly diminished, as many members joined the armed services. Still Sunday services continued and the community found ways to support each other, guided by Rev Mabel Beames and her companion Miss Connor. After her retirement in 1970, with no minister and falling attendance, once more Chapel folk adapted to changing circumstances and showed determination in maintaining a ‘liberal religious witness’ in Godalming.

So too today, we are having to adapt to the challenges of our times. This may be the longest period the Chapel building has remained shut since it first opened in 1789 – but we enjoy the technical means to stay in touch, that our forebears could not have dreamt of. When I get impatient or weary at the challenges of ‘virtual’ ministry, I remember the resilience and determination of those who have gone before and I draw strength from their faith.  The time will come when we can open our Chapel doors again and enjoy each others company, sing songs, drink tea and eat together – but until then I hold in mind these words by Rev Mabel Beames:

The chapel to which we belong is not the building in which we meet, the real chapel is the community of people which we each form a part. The life of the chapel is in that which we as individuals give to it from our own lives, but at the same time we ourselves are the chapel; we are not making our gifts to this building which as a collection of bricks and mortar cannot receive gifts, but to the community of people…”

In Faith and Hope,

Rev. Sheena Gabriel