If stones can speak, the stones around this harbour can tell us many stories. They could speak of the significant role that this particular harbour, built over the last 3-400 years, has made to the life of Minehead. This harbour, with its quay, has been a place where many journeys have begun and where many have ended. We can imagine the buzz of this place when fishing boats set sail, returned and plied their trade on the quay. The stones would speak of the 10 cannons that were provided in 1702 to defend the harbour. They would tell of the distress caused by the great storm in 1703 when 10 men lost their lives – a terrible tragedy for a small community. There would have been pride when it was discovered that through that storm, Minehead was considered the safest harbour in the west. They would have witnessed the construction of this building in the 17th century which came to be used as a salt store. They wiould have seen this building being taken over by local Christians in 1890 to be used as a mission to seamen. And so to today:the harbour is used as a popular place for those visiting Minehead; it is well-used by so many vessels;, it is a starting-off point for pleasure trips and it is the place from which the RNLI launches rescue missions for those in distress.
Acquiring this lovely and characterful building was an inspired move as was its dedication to St. Peter, whose day it is today. St. Peter is one of my favourite saints – he got as many things wrong as he did right and he acted like a bull in a china shop. He had a very ordinary job. He was a fisherman, as many who have worked on this quay have been, and it was by the sea that some of the most significant events in St. Peter’s life took place. A close relationship with the sea opens the door to a close relationship with God, as St. Peter shows.
Today, after the completion of these beautiful altar rails, we are rededicating this chapel to the glory of God. I want to highlight 3 aspects that emerge from the mission and vision of this place.
First, like this harbour, it is a safe refuge from the storms of life. From what I understand, this chapel is always open and has many visitors who will find it a place where they can enjoy the silence, rest awhile and lay down their loads before God. We live in turbulent and uncertain times and the wider political turmoil can make our own personal struggles harder to manage. Mental illness and suicides among our young people are all on the rise as indeed is suspicion towards outsiders and towards those who think and believe differently from us. I cannot think of a time when public dialogue has been so toxic and vicious – and looking at our local newspapers provide examples of that. Even St. Peter, who often got it wrong, would have found it a struggle. So, I thank God for all those who keep this place open, who love and look after this place which provides a place of refuge for so many. When this building was a mission to seamen, it would have welcomed seafarers from around the world. I have no doubt it continues to do that today.
Secondly, like this harbour, this chapel is where journeys begin and end. In this chapel, baptisms, marriages and funerals take place. They are all about going on journeys. But this chapel will be a place where other journeys begin. It may be in the silence or worship here that we feel encouraged to take a step that has been in the back of our minds for a long time, but we need a bit of help and encouragement to do so. This is a new journey. This place may be where a fresh seed is planted in our minds, a new idea, a different way of thinking begins to emerge. This is a new journey. It may be that we feel drawn to beginning a new relationship, a relationship with a person or a place or a cause that we know is important to embrace. This is a new journey.
Journeys also end here. It may be that we feel disheartened and dispirited with a cause or a group with which we have been associated for many years. This is the end of a journey. It may be that we have been trapped into a particular way of thinking or acting but we know we will benefit if we stop it and lay it down. This is the end of a journey – and we may need help to lay it down. No matter how old or how young we are, life is full of journeys beginning and ending and places like this give us the space to engage with God and discover that both beginning and ending journeys are places of life and energy.
In the Gospel this afternoon, we heard Jesus asking his followers who people say that he is. You can imagine this conversation happening as they casually walk together. ‘Some say you’re John the Baptist, others prophets like Elijah or Jeremiah.’ You can then imagine Jesus suddenly stopping and saying, ‘OK, that’s what others say, but you, who do you say I am?’ There would have been stunned silence. Then Peter chirps up, ‘You are the Messiah, the son of the living God.’ Unbeknown to him, this is one of the occasions that Peter got it absolutely right. As a result of what he said, Peter would be ending one journey and starting another. Previously, he had been known as Simon or Simon Peter, but now, ‘I tell you, ‘ said Jesus, ‘you are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.’ For all of us, visitor and regular worshipper, places like this chapel can be significant in this journeying.
Finally, this chapel was and still is a salt-store. It was once full of salt – and it still is. This is one of the most prophetic parts of this place because as followers of Jesus Christ we are called to be salt – and a little bit of flavouring can go a long way. In order for the people of God to be salt – and that is what we are called to be – it is important to keep the faith alive, not primarily for ourselves but for the sake of those who may never come here. It is in our love and concern for those outside that the vitality of faith will be kept alive inside. It was William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1940s, who wrote, ‘The Church is an organisation established primarily for those who are not its members.’ Temple goes on to say that the way we treat those who are not its members tells us how much of ourselves we have put into our worship. This is a chapel that is open to the world and is available to all people whether they have faith or no faith and the works you have done will enable this to continue. I thank God for that, but we constantly need to keep asking ourselves whether we are salt, whether we are engaging with the world. This question is not simply answered by our doing more things, sometimes running ourselves ragged: this question needs to be grappled with in our worship and praise.
As this community begins the next stage of your journey, a new chapter, Some words of Dag Hammarskjold, former General Secretary of the United Nations, come to mind and I commend them to you:
‘For all that has been, thank you. For all that is to come, Yes.’
Readings: Acts 12.1-11;Matthew 16.13-19.
Preached on St. Peter’s Day. 29th June, 2019.
The second image is of the St. Peter’s on the Quay (right) next to the pub The Old Ship Aground.