I’ve been in Rome this weekend. Southwark Cathedral is fortunate to have what are often missing from congregations – people in the 20-40 age bracket. A group called ‘Connected’ was formed some years ago to keep such people connected and encouraged and it was members of that group that I have come to Rome with to have a good weekend but also to experience something of what Rome has to offer.
The weekend began with a visit to the fantastic church of St Clemente, a church on three levels, the church at street level, the original church beneath it and the remains of the Mithraic temple beneath that. It gives a very good impression of the layers of history that are here and the way in which successive generations have built, literally, on the past. That first day also included what was very exciting and new to me – a visit to the Scavi. These are the excavations beneath the basilica of St Peter in the Vatican.
Getting tickets is not that easy to be honest and we felt very blessed to be able to go beneath the church. It is only really in the last century that the work was done to bring to light what was on the site on which that Constantine constructed his basilica. Basically what was there was a pagan necropolis in which Peter, after his martyrdom, was buried. The excavations revealed what the church has accepted as the original site of the apostle’s burial. What was most amazing was to walk down a street in the necropolis and see the huge mausoleums on either side, which once stood at ground level but are now the third level of the basilica. But in that city of the dead we could hear the sound of worshipping above as the noise of singing percolated down. It was fantastic – the dead stones were echoing the sound of the living!
But another part of the time in this city has not been taken up with looking at excavations and stones. Instead we’ve engaged with the Anglican Communion in this city with a visit to the Anglican Centre and Sunday worship at the Anglican Church of All Saints Rome. Both of those experiences have helped us to understand the importance of our own presence as a church, as a communion in this city and also how alive the church is here.
When I’m in the Holy Land I’ve been used to hearing talk of the ‘living stones’. It’s the way that the Christian community in the Holy Land chooses to talk about itself. We’re not just there to look at the ancient sites, but the living church. The phrase of course comes from St Peter’s First letter to the church.
‘You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house.’ (1 Peter 2.5)
At the Anglican Centre we heard from the Director about all the work involved both in engaging with the Roman Cathoc church formally and informally and the way in which Anglicans from around the world and across the traditions find their way to the centre and a welcome and home there. And we experienced the same at All Saints, meeting people who are living in Rome but also visitors from across the world – from Ireland to Zimbabwe, Uganda to the USA. We were all there worshipping together.
The city of the dead was impressive but Rome is the city of the living church and it is the living church through which the spirit breathes that is the really wonderful thing to see – and to be part of.
Living God, bless the living stones of your living church. Amen.