Author: Peter Houston
Category: Evangelism Training
One thing that fascinates me about the story of my ancestor, William Carleton, going down with the Hirano Maru at the end of the First World War was a reference to a Welsh church called St Mary the Virgin in Angle near Pembroke. The church was located near the coast, which gave rise to a unique ministry. Bodies that washed up on the shore would be prepared and buried from the church.
In fact a special chapel was built in the 15th century (1447) by Edward de Shirburn, close to the church, and dedicated to St Anthony, the patron saint of lost things. The crypt beneath the chapel was used to store the many anonymous seamen’s bodies that were found on the coastline until they could be readied for burial. This continued until the early twentieth century. Hence the church graveyard contains the bodies of some of those unknown persons that perished with the sinking of the Hirano Maru at the end of the First World War.
It struck me that the church of St Mary the Virgin in Angle just “happened” to be the place closest to where bodies were washed up. (An accident of the coastal tides?) I imagine for the deceased persons that could be identified, the church was a place of comfort and care for the families coming to attend a funeral, or to claim the body. And for those that remained unknown, maybe solace was gained elsewhere by family that they got a decent burial at a place like St Mary the Virgin.
Makes me wonder what is unique about the placement of my church and the ministry that should flow from it? I’m almost certain that all churches everywhere shouldn’t look and be the same. Different tides conspire to create different circumstances. There is a specific God-ordained reason why there is a local church in a down-town city or a rural village or sub-urban coastal region or a wealthy suburb. What God expects from each will differ, although every local church has the same mandate to bring the light and hope of Christ into their midst.