Church services on military bases are small, simple affairs, with often just a faithful few leaning into share in the rhythms of liturgy. I’m not entirely sure what I expected to find on Sunday mornings when I joined the Navy in 2018, but these small gatherings are far from what I had imagined. When I was young I loved Church. I loved putting on my pretty dresses and taking in the colours of the stained glass windows. I loved the carvings on the altar, the mystery of the Eucharist and the closeness I felt as we moved through the readings, prayers and the passing of the peace. My memories of the Church are warm ones, and safe ones, they are memories of a place of thinness—as though the barriers of heaven and earth were melting away.
Shakespeare once wrote that “sorrows come not in single spies, but in battalions” and as the bataillions of sorrows entered my life during my 20s the awe and majesty of Church melted away. The warmth lessened and the simplicity of the Sunday morning rituals became frustrating and lacklustre. I crawled inside myself and became bitter and isolated. I became rule-bound and judgemental. I hardened my heart to the joy of community and the possibility of a God who loved me just as I was.
In 2015 I happened upon St Peter’s Fireside. I wasn’t looking for community, I wasn’t looking for majesty. Life was frustrating and I was incredibly lonely, but I could put on a brave face and hide all the heart ache, the fear, and all the distrust I had in the Church, it’s leaders, and it’s people—until I became part of a community group. It was through these weekly meetings that I encountered that same warmth, that same majesty, that same thinness that I had experienced years before. It was as though God had wrapped Himself up in the faces of those around me and bandaged and attended to my wounds. Sharing my loneliness and frustration with these trusted friends breathed new life into my faith and as I healed, the beauty and awe of Sunday mornings has come back to me.
My job often takes me away from the community that I love, but I go knowing that my presence is valued and that there are people that are praying for me. I find peace in the simplicity of the small Sunday morning gatherings on military bases because they remind me of my early days with a St. Pete’s community group, just a rag tag bunch longing to find Jesus in every aspect of our lives. I go knowing that the Church is not just a building or a Sunday morning ritual, I go knowing that the Church is the people I share my faith with, it is the people who love and support me and whom I love and support.