Orthodox Crossing: A Case of Moving Home

I moved house a fair amount as a child. Being the youngest of four brothers, I didn’t get the choice of which new bedroom was going to be mine, but I did like tearing about the space and getting a feel for it; how the door handles felt, how it smelt. On reflection, I think what I was trying to do was get a sense of the spirit of the place, but I was little so it would have all come under the title of Excitement.

I think that this was the reason why I settled into working the stage at Snape Maltings Concert Hall almost two decades ago; we would build these spaces on the stage, some simple so as to leave space for a vast orchestra and others theatrically ornate, but all of them rooms, and each one with its charisma. I’d stand to the side of the stage at quiet moments and talk these things through with a Lampy (trade speak for lighting monkey) called Ash, and then again with a much older veteran of the stage called Ian. He was a waif-like man who had worked and managed stages up and down the country for years.

‘It is a strange way to almost earn a living,’ he’d say about it all, and I knew it was true. I didn’t need to understand it to the extent that Ian did, but he always delivered that line so well.

So that’s spaces for you, and here’s the rub… my dear Orthodox community, having grown to the point of a great swell, is having to move into a new space. From the outskirts to the centre of town, a minor brown road marker pointing towards the church, to the heart of it, just off the high street. There is going to be some exploring needed and I have some notes from two Sundays on the field.

St Julian’s Church can be found exactly at the spot where it lives in the centre of Shrewsbury. It has been there, as at least a foundation, for ages of ages. My dad reckons that this current building has been with us since the seventeenth century. I don’t know explicitly because, as I say, I’m learning about it from other points of view, plus I remember historical dates like I remember number plates; not very well.

But I have known this church over recent years by the use of it as a prayer refuge during the unaffectionate period known as Lockdown. I was of reformed faith at that time and a group of us would meet at St Julian’s for spontaneous prayer and singing. It was a lifeline at the time, and a lifetime ago for my heart, which became Orthodox shortly thereafter. But it had given me a little bit of knowledge about being in this space. I knew that to get to the toilet you had to negotiate your way through an Italian restaurant attached to the side. It was closed back then of course, because those were those days, but I already knew that its appearance was between me and the toilet.

But I didn’t know the building in the sense of exploring nooks and crannies, much less how my young Orthodox heart might react to the sudden appearance of liturgical worship within it. I probably had a little tension before going into my first Divine Liturgy. I wasn’t looking for it because that would be a stupid thing to go looking for and I had just given up stupid things the day before. But it came looking for me. And now that we’ve got some tension lurking around, let’s dive into it. Unless you’d like to hang in the tension for a moment? Squeeze it a little for some counter-intuitive intermissional pique before we drop in? We can do that if you like, it pushes the word count along but can get indulgent, and if I was going to indulge myself I would choose to write the rest of this like a piece of detective fiction.


I took the sandstone steps two-by-two, up and up until I was closing down on the entrance, a corduroy collar up against rain, wind and any needles of doubt that might afflict me with disbelief that God was calling to this space, and reaching into these walls?

I took in the spire before I went under and let the case now unfold before me. The Priests had gathered to lead us characters of worship and what bones were going to be shaken would follow. Turning the knob to the door, I noted the weight. It was there, but the mechanism worked well and somehow that spoke to my instincts on the case.

But then you never know what you will run into around the corner once inside. In this instance, the candle situation was irregular. They were off to the side as you prepared to join the worship, and it set a sudden sound, a single sounding of glockenspiel within my heart. Off-key but attention grabbing; pieces had been adjusted, and had they been moved to throw me off and conceal some truth? And if that was so, how many of them were involved, and how numerous the pieces?

The case was cutting close to the heart already. I made ready to settle in and see what this space had to say for itself with the tones by which she conducted those things. She had been priorly dressed in a mix of reformed regimentism and the personal fancies of the current owners’ discretions. There were also icons by delivery and a pop-up Iconostasis.

I could see what the case was now, at least to some rudimentary understanding. We were a hallowed space amongst the counter-decorations of reformed worship. We are cousins in faith, but y’know… we are cousins so you know how it is. Further, we were in a new neighbourhood, staking fresh signposts into the centre-mass of Shrewsbury. Blood wasn’t being spilled, but it was being served, and from the heart of the township. Hot stuff, but that morning the air was chilled; I kept my jacket on, unusual for me because I’ve always been waiting to combust in the face of our Lord and I never wanted the extra layers on if that was going to happen. But the air was cool and while in and amongst the congregation I sensed that cards were being held tight and close, that some truth might not befall us each if they remained unrevealed.

The Spirit would have its way in the end, but in the moment were people being people. That made it complex to reach the centre of, and in the more direct meantime were Fathers Stephen and Panteleimon serving Divine Liturgy; makeshift but made to order, and keeping order.

I wondered what they saw in us, how they might have been wondering over what we saw; and over us all The Spirit, to which knowing was a coming to terms for us all, probably. If this church had had a bar, I’d have flipped a coin and gone for a double off the rocks. Then having been served I would have looked at it and then pushed it away because the Lord’s supper was still to come and that would give me the straight answers that I was looking for. Sometimes you don’t need the correct pocket change, you just need the correct witness. I calmed, at least I would like to think now that I did. At the time I queued, took what must be given and waited to become a witness.

Myself, a key witness in my own case. Great start. I rolled a cigarette and took it outside because this was 2024 and not 1934. Orthodoxy, I thought while out there; not a simple explanation but the feminine of the church can draw you from further than dynamite could blow you.

JW Bowe

Our Local Saints
Copyright © 2024