Messenger February 2017 - A Thin Place
By Jim East
I first stayed at Sizewell Hall in the winter of 2005 – 30 years after it was opened as a Christian conference centre. The place has a rich and interesting history. It was a large country house which was extended and established as the centre of a 6000 acre farming estate in the mid 19th Century. In 1920 the house burned down and was rebuilt as the structure we see today. The ‘new’ house has seen service as a family home, as an army billet, as a boarding school and as a playground for local vandals during thirteen years of abandonment. This all led to the arrival of Vick and Meg Jack, a Christian couple with a calling to refresh and resource God’s people. They acquired the hall, coordinated renovations and began welcoming church visitors in 1975.
The atmosphere at Sizewell Hall is wonderful. I suppose I could best describe it as a place where it feels easy to relax with God, or, as John Denver put it in one his songs, a place where you can, ‘talk to God and listen to His casual reply’. I once heard a guest speaker refer to Sizewell Hall as, ‘a thin place’. I’d like to reflect a little on this latter, rather enigmatic description…
The guest speaker actually meant something rather simple, but very significant when he used the phrase, ‘a thin place’. He went on to explain his belief that we’d gathered in a spot where the gap between heaven and earth seemed very thin. High praise, indeed! The implication is that it’s somehow a little easier to experience heavenly peace and to feel closer to God at Sizewell Hall. I’d certainly be very cautious before suggesting that it was some kind of Suffolk Sinai. Nonetheless, the building has been washed in prayer for decades – beginning when Shirley Vickers (former editor of Christian Viewpoint magazine) visited the abandoned building in the early 1970s and prayed all around the site, claiming it for God’s kingdom and holy purposes. Countless churches have cherished their Sizewell Weekends, and returned year on year to be blessed as a community and to join their prayers with those that have previously been offered. Sizewell Hall is clearly set apart for God – a holy place, ‘a thin place’. I’m looking forward to being there, soon.
As time has gone on, it has occurred to me that the phrase ‘a thin place’ does not just refer to certain sacred geographical locations. The Scriptures imply strongly that we are ‘thin places’. The Lord has chosen to make us points of contact between earth and heaven. As we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour, we become citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20) and sojourners on the earth (Psalm 119:19). When people come to us, they should sense the strong presence of God’s kingdom. When people come to us, they should find it easier to experience heavenly peace and easier to draw closer to God.
St Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, expressed the notion perfectly in the second chapter of his letter to the church in Ephesus. I’ll leave you with his amazing words; words that define what it is to be ‘a thin place’:
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Italics are mine.]