The churchyard of St Mary’s Church in Cusop, south Herefordshire, forms part of a well-trodden walking route. It links the surrounding Clifford, Dorstone and Craswall parishes across the Welsh border into Hay and Llanigon. It’s popular with walkers and tourists and the church is left open to passing visitors. It offers visitors a help yourself welcome to tea, coffee and biscuits alongside an invitation to sign the visitors’ book. There’s an opportunity to browse or sit and admire the features of this peaceful historic place of worship.
As walkers approach the church door, they often stop to take a look at the small cairn (a hand-built pile of stones), which has been gradually growing with the passing seasons. The original idea for the cairn started nearly two years ago during a service of remembrance held in late November. Revd Angie Kateley, our curate, suggested it. She asked if people might like to lay a pebble on the cairn as they left the church to return home. We never removed it after the service and then we started to notice that it was growing. Explains Celia, one of the church members.
Visitors seemed to be taking pebbles from the basket inside the church and leaving them on the cairn. There are now two baskets of pebbles, one in the porch and one on our welcome table inside the church, next to the visitors’ book. People visiting the church are encouraged to help themselves and directed to leave it on the cairn.
Many often add a comment in the visitors’ book describing how much they value the cairn and the experience of placing a stone. One visitor recently wrote: ‘What a lovely welcoming church. I placed a stone for my brother Peter - whom I love more than I realised.’ This is just one of the many comments that people have written. The experience of placing a stone on the cairn in memory of a loved one is tapping into something deeper.
It seems that laying down a pebble is something easy. It is an open invitation to anyone. Perhaps it allows people an opportunity to consciously pray without worrying about finding the right words. It has created a space that helps people of faith or no faith to connect with those they have loved and to find spiritual peace.
Local curate, Revd Angie Kateley, adds:” This is a brilliant example of how we can make talking to God accessible to everyone without having to know any words.
“I’d love to see more churches building outdoor prayer spaces. There’s another one underway at Dore Abbey, where the local church team are building a permanent outdoor prayer labyrinth in the orchard.
“So many people enjoyed church services when we took ourselves outside during lockdown, so outdoor prayer feels like a natural way to help people connect with the spiritual.”
If you are looking for fresh prayer ideas, do visit the diocesan Year of Prayer page, which includes resources and ideas to help your church. There are a number of diocesan led Year of Prayer events taking place during the autumn, at which we hope to inspire and encourage even more prayer.