It is amazing what keeps you awake at 4am, well maybe not keeps you awake, I actually have no idea why I am awake and writing, except that I am awake and writing! An over-active mind maybe…. maybe if I write some of it out I will get some sleep! Maybe not.
I have had a number of conversations with people over the last few days about church life, and the people our churches engage with, unsurprising really as I am a minister and people tend to talk to me about things of church life, faith etc, but the common and repeated thinking has been about the number of people who come onto our premises but “don’t come to church” , and I want to unpack that a bit.
Who are they? Well it could be anyone who comes into our buildings, people who come for not church related activities such as Slimming World, Zumba groups, Yoga, Writing classes, the list goes on, and yes I think I would tend to agree, they are coming into our building, but not to be a part of the church. Others though do come to church related groups, youth groups, toddler groups, Messy Church ( which I will keep arguing is church) lunch clubs and more, people who come into contact with our church members, people with whom we have the chance of building real and lasting relationships, people who are in fact coming to the church even if they aren’t yet members, and may never be, and yet could be, people who by their very being among us offer us a chance to share our stories and vice-versa.
Sharing stories is a very human and powerful thing to do, and yet alongside the lament that “they don’t come”, another thing I hear over and over from lovely church members is a reluctance and lack of confidence in sharing faith, often alongside a fear of getting it wrong, but here’s the thing, how can you get your story wrong? How can your day by day encounter with God be wrong? That moment in a busy day where you were met with peace and knew it to be a God moment, that unexpected conversation on the bus, that prayer time with friends, that experience of worship as you were driving and singing? Surely none of those can be wrong! Again and again I assure people that our knowledge of God is not about facts, it is about relationship, and like all relationships they ebb and flow, and need work, and it is okay to say that.
So those young people who come into church for hot chocolate on the way home from school, or who come every Monday evening because you make them welcome, those you value and treasure, and hopefully pray for, remember they are coming to church, maybe the question is how do I deepen my discipleship in order to show to them what a disciple is? Jesus was radically attractive to some, and repelled others, can we be like that, are we like that, or do we worry ourselves mute with niceness?
The parents and tots who come into our groups week by week are coming to church, one of the churches I work with always say a prayer before their snack, and the helpers tell Bible stories from time to time, it hasn’t put anyone off, others don’t for fear of putting people off, maybe we need to take the risk! Why are we worried about sharing our stories and concentrating on being nice?
I could go on from activity to activity, but you get the picture I am sure.
As an adult convert who wasn’t brought up in the church I began to ponder what drew me, first was a hunger for spirituality, in my late teens I was seeking belonging in all sorts of ways, some healthy, others decidedly not healthy, but going to church was one of them, and I consider that a healthy decision! I remember being drawn by the beauty of the building, a small church on a hilltop, and by the liturgy even though I would not have been able to name it as such.
Mystery was certainly a part of that, and it is from there that a desire to know God began, the fact that it led to a moment when my son Chris was diagnosed with a severe congenital heart condition, when I entered the chapel at the Brompton Hospital in London and demanded that God show himself, shows how far along that journey into relationship I had unconsciously travelled, I am still travelling, but I did meet people on the way who had the confidence not only to welcome me, but to share their stories of faith with me. Note not their factual answers, their stories. I came to the church, and the church came to me.
Our President of Conference Barbara Glasson, is inviting us to share our stories this year, inviting us to engage with God and one another and to grow in confidence and faith. I pray that, that will happen more and more, and that making disciples will become normal and natural for us whether “they come” on a Sunday or not. I want to say Sundays aren’t the point people are, and people will come to where they are loved and valued.
So maybe we need to stop worrying and start relaxing into our relationships with God and others, just get on with being, and in the being be willing to share our lives, and through our lives our stories…