Alternative church

The road to the beach has been closed for a few days, and we have been diverted around the headland, a journey of 5 miles. I’ve not heard so much fuss and complaining since it was suggested the church moved a few hundred yards down the road…… honestly! What is it with people and change? Change is good, a little wander away from the norm is to be welcomed, explored, enjoyed. It may even be better than the usual old trudge through the day.

The road was closed to allow for work to be carried out on the water supply, in a very narrow stretch between two rows of terraced houses. ‘Essential work’ they called it, and there is nothing more essential to life than water. So, button your lip and stop with the complaints. Be glad for the maintenance. Thank God for the men in their high vis jackets, the detour, the signs, thank God for fresh water, when half the world has none.

It’s not as if our journey was arduous, we aren’t slogging on foot up and down the hills. Oh, I know sometimes you meet a tractor on the lane, or a lorry, or a holiday maker who can’t reverse and has no idea what a passing place is, but a few minutes delay isn’t a disaster and look at it… just look…. people pay good money and travel miles to see what we see every day. This is the detour we were sent on, and I am not complaining one little bit:

That was yesterday. Thanking God for sky and sea and roads and workmen and fresh water.

Now for today.

I’ve never dialled 999 in my life, until this morning, and because it was a first-time experience, I dithered over it for a few minutes, unusually hesitant. I was on the beach (of course) with the three mutts (of course) on a dry, fresh day, with tumbling clouds reaching high and lying low, the sunlight fleeting. Here’s this morning for you:

Can you tell that I love a skyscape?

We’d walked through the dunes and up to the dead tree and now we were sitting on a log while I tried to build up the enthusiasm and energy for church (and people), and I was just on the brink of giving myself an ‘excused duties’ note when I clocked a sailing boat crossing the bay and heading our way. The tide was going out and the little craft was heading towards the sand bank, rather than taking the usual wider course to enter the estuary. I thought at first that it was just someone unfamiliar with the bay and settled down to see it safely over the sandbank. And then I saw that one of the sails seemed to be flapping wildly, and then that the smaller sail also seemed to have lost its shape somehow. As I watched, the boat turned back towards the open sea, but then it kept on going, circling, going broadside on to the wind. It didn’t seem to have engine power, just to be wallowing. By now the rocks were about 100yards away but the gap seemed to be closing. Or was it? Was it my imagination? A trick of parallax? I could see that something was wrong but was it just a minor glitch that they would soon sort out for themselves (I could just about make out two people moving around in the cockpit) or was it a real emergency? I dithered. I did. And I don’t like dithering.

On a Sunday morning the RNLI station is abuzz with activity, getting ready for practice, usually involving launching one of the boats, but I was at the other end of the beach and it would take at least 15 minutes to get to them. There were other dog walkers quite near me and they weren’t reacting at all to the sight of this little white yacht flailing around near the rocks. But I had seen it, and maybe they hadn’t. Would I be negligent to walk on and do nothing? After all, the breeze was light, the tide was falling, and if they could just keep off the rocks they would simply go aground to refloat at the next tide. But what if they hit the rocks first? And what if, with the sails out, what if the engine was crocked, too? If that was the case then the tide coming back in would be a problem. Anyway, anyway, I told myself, they were bound to have mobile phones – everyone has mobile phones. If they needed help they would call for it. Or are they the sort of perverse people who refuse to own cell phones? Damn. They could be, I know someone who trumpets his refusal to own one as if it’s a high moral calling. Dither dither. And anyway, came another line of reasoning, when the tide is right out they’ll be just a few muddy steps from shore and rocks and a clamber to dry land. They might be really annoyed if they’re raised as an emergency. Bum.

Would I be over-reacting if I called the coastguard? Would I be ruining the day for a whole gang of people? Should I just call a friend whose whole family is on the lifeboat crew? I told myself off quite sternly and made the decision and did both. I texted my lifeboat friend and I dialled 999. The emergency service was flawless, the chap at the coastguard was great. As the call ended I had a text from my friend and was able to send her a photo of the boat, so that they knew just where it was. After what seemed like ages (but wasn’t) with the boat seeming to get closer and closer to the rocks, I heard the distant alarm of the lifeboat launch and watched as the bright orange heroic little thing, with four white helmets shining like halos, went to the rescue. Now I had been joined by Annie, the wife of one of the men on the lifeboat (she was also walking her dog) and we watched as someone – probably her husband – got into the water and did something (?) and then clambered back in, and there was a bit of shouting and to-ing and fro-ing. They were there for probably 20 minutes and I think they had a go at getting a line on, but by now the boat was too high out of the water and nothing was going to budge it, so they returned to the lifeboat station. The stranded boat will sit there until high tide, in about 5 hours.

So, it wasn’t quite an emergency, but it might have been. It wasn’t quite dramatic, but nearly. I’m no Grace Darling, as it turns out.

I didn’t get to church (hooray!) and I didn’t finish my devotionals (boo!) and by the time we got back home we were all starving. And you know what? Seeing that little crew heading out to an unknown situation, giving up their Sunday morning, seemed even better than being in church. It was seeing the love of God, and remembering that God loves us, because he made us loveable. It made me thank God not just for the RNLI and their quiet heroism, but for the whole fabric of the world, for the men who built the roads we so unthinkingly drive along, for the workers who laid the water pipes and the drains, the people who invented phones, the unseen millions of the past who have made our lives so comfortable today. And it made me think, again, of those who have no water, who don’t have the blessing of a green and fertile land, or of rescue and care, of those who are battered by war or storm or drought or disease.

It was a morning of joy and thankfulness and a sort of grief, in equal measure.

This morning I was at worship. Miles away from the nearest church.

Home again, home again, jiggety jig.

Let the whole earth sing to the Lord!
    Each day proclaim the good news that he saves.
Publish his glorious deeds among the nations.
    Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.
 Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!

1 Chronicles 16: 23-25

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