I crept into Church late on the Sunday morning during a hymn, I was less surreptitious than I would have liked as everyone had turned around to look at Dan the curate who was adjusting the CD playing sound-system at the back, he gave me a quick hug and I crept into a pew and I joined in the service, a traditional Anglican Eucharist, which I had not been to for quite a while. e.
Dan had been a placement student with me whilst training at theological college for a month whilst I was in Kingswood as part of his ordination training. It is an unusual experience having someone watch and reflect on what you do, in some ways it feels a bit vulnerable -although fortunately Dan was very gracious. I knew Dan would be a fantastic minister and it was great to see him ‘in situ’ and seeing the call of God on someone’s life be recognised and see them flourishing in the context where they have been called.
Dan introduced me briefly in the service and they prayed for me and the tour, which I found really moving. It was a great reminder that even though these people had never seen me before, in Christ we are joined together and on the same mission.
During the service Dan’s daughter wandered up to see him, and ended up holding hands with one of the servers, which was lovely as it showed how the Church clearly loved this family and were very relaxed about the presence of children in their Church. Sadly, I have come across too many Churches where kids do what kids do and have heard older members “tut” and “mutter”.
Welcome being so much more than just saying “hello” on the door, but is something that permeates everything we do, and who we are. It is through welcome that people feel loved, valued and accepted, through this we move from feeling like guests to feeling as though we belong to part of the family.
As part of the service there is a moment called “the peace” where we greet one another, I wandered around shaking hands with people I suddenly recognised two of them, Chris and Teresa. I was surprised to see them as they were out of context. Teresa had worked with me as an associate minister for a while in Kingswood before moving to a parish up the road in Mangotsfield and had been part of a steering group I chaired wrestling with the question of what God was calling us to do with the new housing estates that were fast rising up all around the outskirts of the city.
I remember being at a Deanery Leadership Team and I said about how we really ought to be talking about how our deanery (collection of local Anglican churches) needed to think about the vast amount of new growth and housing springing up all around us; the area dean somewhat fobbed me off with a “if you’d like to do it Andy go for it!” So, a small working party was born, it was great to hear various clergy colleagues exploring how they could reach out to their new neighbours as they arrived in their newly built homes (often surrounded by mud and building work).
One of the group, Howard, greeted every neighbour with a welcome pack, a hamper and a bottle of wine. He also was part of all the new neighbourhood groups and could be found flipping pancakes or lighting fireworks or some community event. Another colleague Rachel used to say “never underestimate the power of a McMillian Coffee Morning” who had a real gift for gathering small groups of people together, she also dressed as a banana for the whole of fair-trade fortnight which was a unique (but very surprisingly successful) way of getting to know the neighbours and builders.
As the service finished and we went to get our coffee, Teresa came up to me and saying that her parish now have a small church called ‘Inspire’ meeting in a school in the new area with local people coming to it which I was delighted to hear.
I shared with her about the work my friend John Good, a Baptist Pioneer Minister (known as John the Baptist) is doing in the area of Hamworthy that I am living in, as we prayer walk each week, have done a neighbourhood survey and actively seeking to be a blessing most recently giving out to the local people lots of frozen ice-pops as a random act of kindness.
Dan came over to join us and had a chat, his training incumbent (the Vicar who is meant to be looking after him and overseeing him like an apprentice) is leaving which is going to leave Dan looking after the parish. As the congregation disappeared it was great to pray a blessing on him as he prayed for me too.
As I drove away, I had thought I could easily have missed this morning as I did not actually ‘do’ anything but I was so grateful that I had gone along to the Church that morning as it had encouraged and inspired me afresh with seeing and hearing about God at work in various different settings, and a reminder that God is always at work reaching out in mission to his world.
I stuck my car into gear and headed towards Bristol.