A Prayer Pilgrimage: St Stephen’s
During its 1000-year-long existence, the church of St Stephen’s has seen many changes. Between 1658 and 1664 it was sold, returned dilapidated, rebuilt, burnt down and rebuilt again. In May 1942 it survived the devastation of the High Street during the Exeter Blitz. The most recent changes occurred with a major refurbishment finally completed in 2012.
4 points of prayer
1) Inscribed on the top step of the entrance is a verse from the New Testament book ‘Letter to the Hebrews’ – Be welcoming to strangers: you may be entertaining angels unawares (Hebrews 13:2). This in turn refers to the story in Genesis 18: 1-16 which tells of Abraham offering hospitality to three travellers who turn out to be angels, or even the Lord himself.
2) In the main body of the church are six banners, three in each of the north and south aisles, depicting images taken principally from Celtic Christianity: a leaping salmon, ferns unfurling, a wild goose, a triplet of hares, small fishes and a dove. The installation of the banners was the concluding part of the building’s refurbishment. Further information is available in the booklet entitled “The Banners in St Stephen’s Church”.
3) Central to Christian worship is the service known variously as the Mass, Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, or (the term used in St Stephen’s) Holy Communion. On the dais at the front stands a communion table which was commissioned and presented to the church in memory of a former and much-loved member of the clergy team.
4) On the back wall in the little upper chapel or sanctuary, informally known as the “Bow Room” (it sits on top of the medieval archway called “St Stephen’s Bow”), hangs the tapestry Pieces of Light, created in 1986 by tapestry artist Bobbie Cox. In three sections which continue with the altar frontal, its original location was on the east wall of the chancel (behind the communion table), and was moved to its current position when the Bow Room steps were opened up.
1. The Entrance
I step into the entrance to this building
where worshippers have been welcomed for a thousand years,
and give thanks that you welcome me now.
I pray for all who will enter this holy place,
that they too may find a blessing within,
angels and strangers alike.
2. The Banners
the images of the beauty of creation are before me,
and I say with the psalmist “how wonderful are your works,
my soul knows it well”.
I praise you for the infinite variety of form and colour,
the minute and the mighty, the fragile and the fearsome:
each one a fellow creature whose home is the Earth.
3. The Communion Table
I approach the communion table,
a reminder of the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples,
as one who would be a disciple now,
praying that I might know Christ’s reassuring presence
as I seek to follow his way
through ‘the changes and chances of this fleeting world’.
4. The Tapestry
as I gaze at the “pieces of light”
where the darker and the brighter together
form the cross that unites heaven and earth,
I pray that the light and the shade of my own life
will hint at the cross of Christ,
and be acceptable in your sight.