"Christianity is more than a theory about the
universe, more than teachings written down on
paper; it is a path along which we journey – in
the deepest sense, the way of life. "
We were in search of a good coffee that Sunday morning in an unfamiliar market town. The first real snap of winter had finally arrived, and we were cold. As we passed the old Victorian Anglican church the bell began to toll, calling the faithful to worship. This was supposed to be a Sunday off, a chance to explore but it was also the first Sunday in Advent so I paused to ask my husband, “Shall we go to church?” My husband, that relentless hunter of a decent coffee, who has never been known to choose a strange church service over the joys of a good coffee, said, “Yeah. I suppose we could do that instead.” And he set off around the side to find the door leaving me, rather taken aback, to follow.
Comfortable seats, gentle lighting and efficient heating had transformed the interior into a modern welcoming space. There were about 30 of us and it was a thoughtful service of worship. The sung responses reminded me of how awkward it is when you’re new to a place and the insightful sermon didn’t seem to quite fit with the ornate robes the priest was wearing but never mind. We felt welcome, we worshipped, there was a sense of having encountered something of the mystery of Advent.
I spend a lot of time with other Christians thinking about mission and how we should go about it in our context. For many people the end goal seems to be about getting people into services so it was illuminating to place myself in the position of a stranger. It’s been a long time since I wandered unexpectedly into a church service and experienced it as a visitor. It struck me that it takes either a good deal of confidence, or desperation, to walk into an unfamiliar space containing a group of people who all seem to know each other as well as how to behave. Just the logistics of where to sit, when to stand, what to say and how to sing random snippets of liturgy is a challenge. You must really WANT to be there to stick at it. You must be prepared to get something wrong. It’s asking rather a lot of people we want to welcome into our community.
But I loved it. I watched people march, limp, wheel themselves down the aisle to nibble on little pieces of bread dipped into wine and thought ‘These are my people’ and then I thought how wonderful to find family in a new place so quickly. What a gift to belong to them and them to me, to share in the Eucharist like this!
The following week we found ourselves in a cottage high in the hills being given tea and scones by a church leader and his wife from a newly formed community church who meet in a school. They told me that they’d had a family of five back for lunch after the worship service the other week. “The parents looked SO tired we had to ask them,” he said. “This is church,” said the visiting father after lunch as he sank into the sofa and closed his eyes. Nothing about it had been planned but this is what you can do when you are family – accept unexpected invitations for meals and feel free to snooze afterwards.
I loved this. The spontaneity that can be given free rein when someone makes space in their life to pick up the tired, encourage the sad and enjoy the company of the lonely. What an extraordinary yet ordinary thing to do for people who aren’t our legal family or friends but with whom we share a love of Jesus. This family of faith; what a gift when we find them.
Faith is a way of life so it’s far more than a worship service or a hot meal. It’s about the whole of life; we can stumble along confused or race ahead surefooted the life path set before us. But walking the path together is how we should travel, whether we love carefully crafted services and impromptu gatherings, we are all family, God’s children.
Last week three brothers met in a random pub in the middle of nowhere. About an hour into the conversation a stranger of a similar age nearby, got up. On his way out he went over to them and said, “Excuse me for interrupting but usually there’s a bit of an edge with groups like yours but the way you talk and discuss it’s not like that at all and, well, I’d love to be part of a group like yours”. These brothers, like all brothers, have had their arguments, they’ve had to work their way to this.
Maybe one day people will want to be part of our family simply because they love the way we are with each other every day, whatever we’re up to and wherever we are. Wouldn’t that be amazing? We’re going to have work our way to this but in this season rich in hopefulness; I will hope for this.
Director: South-West England & Wales