There is a church in the middle of a field with no road leading to it or from it and no footpath either. And yet every Sunday the most beautiful singing floats from within its sturdy old walls. I know this because every Sunday I walk past it.
The first time I saw it I found it by accident. Sunday lunch in my house is a big affair, family come from all over and descend on us for a day filled with loud discussion, lots of food and a reasonable amount of alcohol, and in order to hold onto my sanity and my temper I leave just after they get there. It’s not that I don’t enjoy seeing everyone – I do, of course. I feel proud when my family are around me, I’m the patriarch, I’m the reason they’re all there. But on a Sunday there’s no room for me in the kitchen, I’m just told to get out from under their feet, and the living room where I would like to sit and read the papers is suddenly full of small people with noisy toys and sticky fingers.
Me getting out of the house is the best for all of us. It makes for a happier day all round. I come back for lunch refreshed, hungry, and ready to join in with the rest of them.
It was on a beautiful April Sunday when the weather was just warming up enough to wander without a coat and the smell of spring was firmly in the air, the birds were back from wherever they’d been and the whole world was coming back to life that I first saw the church. My usual route took me through a patch of woodland, across a little meadow, and round the housing estate before circling back to my full to bursting home. But on this April day the meadow was out of bounds. There were big notices up telling me that a film crew was using it and that I’d need to find another way round.
I’d lived in that area for almost ten years at that point and yet I had no idea of any alternative route. I stood pondering this for a moment before deciding that the safest option was to turn back the way I had come and go home. But reversing a well known path is more difficult than it might seem, and I emerged not on the track that led down to the main road, and my house, but in a completely different meadow to the one I had tried to cross earlier. It was beautiful. It was still. It had a church in the middle of it.
The church was a stone building with a big gold cross above the door. The roof looked to be in good repair, and the windows were intact. It didn’t seem abandoned although there was no way that I could see for the congregation to get there, other than through the woods that I had just walked through. I imagined the elderly and infirm traipsing through the undergrowth for the weekly sermon and wondered whether anyone bothered.
I walked nearer and could hear singing. Beautiful, choral harmonies and soaring melodies. Stunning. When it was over I looked at my watch and my heart jumped as I realised how long I’d been standing in that one spot. Without looking back, I trotted back home, preparing myself for the family that would be there.
I didn’t tell anyone about the church.
The next week I abandoned my old route and attempted to find that field again. It took longer than I had expected, and I only had a chance to listen to a little of the music before regretfully turning back for home.
Now that I knew where it was and how to get there, even if the journey was a little arduous, I made my way straight to the field on the Sunday after that. The singing was as beautiful as ever, and I slowly made my way to the front door, desperately wanting to go inside, to join in if I’m honest, but scared, not wanting to disturb anyone.
I couldn’t do it.
It took me another three weeks to work up the courage to push open the door and go inside.
What I saw took my breath away.
The church was empty. No, more than empty. It was nothing. It was a shell, just a façade, just a front and a side of a fake building propped up with strong planks of wood. My head instantly started to throb, my stomach began to hurt, my disappointment was so great. I had imagined so much and there was nothing. Just more meadow and more blue sky.
And even though I know this, I can still hear the singing.
©Lisamarie Lamb 2011