When a centurion heard that Jesus might be able to save his dying servant he sent some Jewish elders to him to ask for his help. This what they said: “He is worthy to have you do this for him he loves our nation, and he has built us our synagogue.” The centurion deserved the people’s gratitude for giving the people a new place of worship, just as the sixth Earl Fitzwilliam deserves the gratitude of the people of Wentworth for a similar gift.
Similar, but not identical. The new church at Wentworth, whose 140th anniversary we have just celebrated, is more of a temple than a local synagogue. It’s capable, as we saw at the confirmation service in May this year, of accommodating large gatherings of worshippers from (relatively) far and wide. And it’s a magnificent venue for concerts and various kinds of cultural and social activities as well as for weddings, baptisms, funerals and the regular round of services.
Having a parish church of such size and quality is a great privilege. It’s also a great responsibility – both financially and in other ways. Our Lord’s words when he drove out those dishonest dealers who bought and sold in the temple are often unfairly cited to condemn all sorts of innocent activity - and especially income generation (however necessary) - in church buildings: “Is it not written ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer?’ But you have made it a den of thieves.” The passage in Isaiah 56 from which Jesus quoted reveals the reason for his indignation, though of the four evangelists only Mark makes this clear by finishing the crucial sentence: ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.’ (Mark 11.17). Nobody should be shut out.
As the privileged possessors of a large, glorious and much visited church it is our responsibility to ensure not only that it never becomes a den of thieves (not very likely, I hope!) but also that it never fails to be an inclusive house of prayer. What that means is helpfully expressed in a notice near the main entrance to the church. Please read it. It’s not mere political correctness. It’s what the Gospel requires.