Rev Canon Edmund Newey, Sub Dean, Christ Church, Oxford


So said the notice in the porch of a church we visited on holiday last month.

Holy Trinity, Buckfastleigh, Devon, is largely ruined, having been destroyed by arson in the summer of 1992.

Yet even without a roof, doors, windows or furnishings it remains a place of serene quiet.

Scores of visitors of all ages make the pilgrimage up the 196 stone steps to the church on its hilltop site.

Some, no doubt, are drawn by its air of gothic mystery. More come because they find peace and solace.

But churches are not only about solace. They should also be places of risk and challenge.

‘You are welcome in the church. But at your own risk.’ Perhaps this isn’t just a health and safety notice but an invitation.

Churches, at their best, are situated on the risky frontier between heaven and earth.

This means that they should be focal points for all that God has to give us – blessing and rebuke, consolation and provocation, stillness and action.

One such church featured on Songs of Praise a few weeks ago. St Michael’s is the makeshift church put up by the Calais migrant community.

What is remarkable about this humble building is that, though it is made only of plastic-covered crates, it is truly a holy place.

The constantly shifting community of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers has found the time and energy to make a place of worship.

Desperate people, who might have focused only on their own dire needs, have come together to make a house for God before whom they are all equal.

St Michael’s, Calais, couldn’t be more different from my own current place of worship, Christ Church Cathedral.

Yet even in such a solid, ancient place as Oxford’s cathedral, the challenge and risk of faith breaks in.

We are currently hosting an exhibition by the sculptor Peter Eugene Ball.

One artwork shows a juggling, jesting Bishop, defying gravity as he tumbles before God.

What a picture of all the Church can be: in Jesus’s words to all people: ‘I have come that you may have life: life in all its fullness’.

Hearing those words, we are encouraged to risk all in the service of God and God’s people.

We are indeed welcome in the church. But at our own risk.