Friday, 2 November 2012

Witnessing in Hampstead

I like art and I like nosing around old churches. On a walk this afternoon, I passed Heath Street Baptist Church in Hampstead. Unusually, the door was open so I poked my head inside. I saw that the main body of the church was strung with what looked like old ropes. Ooh, lovely. Art in an old church!
This is part of a very interesting exhibition - "The Long Cloud of Witnesses" - inside a fascinating old building. After I'd walked around and examined just about everything, I spoke to the curator, who is also one of the artists, a young American woman called Piper Mavis. Do they still use the church for services? I asked.

Yes, she said.

What are they going to do this Sunday with all this rope everywhere?

She hesitated before explaining, embarrassed on their behalf, that the congregation of this venerable old church has now dwindled to about 15 and that they meet in a small room at the back.

What a fascinating picture that paints, 15 of the faithful worshipping in what feels like a living tomb!

A variation on the 'What is it?' puzzle - unfamiliar objects viewed from unfamiliar angles.
If you like art and old churches, I do urge you to go and see the exhibition which is on till 11 November. Not least because you get to look inside one of Hampstead's usually hidden buildings.
The theme of the exhibition is "what hidden stories are contained in the memory of the countless buildings we rush by in our daily lives". But it also triggered hidden stories contained in my own brain. Exploring the church reminded me of my grandmother's old house. She usually lived in a big, rather spartan and dignified house, which nonetheless also contained piles of clutter. Much like a church storing jumble for a sale that will probably never happen.
I liked this feature of the church: the curious metal decorations up in the roof beams, a splash of colour that reminded me of mistletoe growing high up in the naked, brown branches of trees.
Today was very cold, preshadowing the real winter which is still only coming.
And that's it. Me being pretentious. It wasn't too painful, was it? It's been a heavy week and next week is not likely to be any quieter, so some stirring up of the emotions is unavoidable, I'm afraid.

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