I walked slightly gingerly into a Church buzzing with people, there was cake (lots of cake!) and kids at craft tables sticking and colouring, there were settees with people sat in them, I was worried I was intruding and pulling the Pastor away from chatting with local people. “Hi I’m Andy, I’m looking for Steph?”
“I’m Steph” replied the guy with a tea towel.
(As a side note, it is one of my the things that really annoys me is how many vicars and ministers think they are “above/too important” to help wash dishes, forgetting that Jesus washed feet! I would also say I have also had some of my best “Jesus chats” with people whilst up to my elbows in soap suds).
We shook hands and then everyone else began to shake my hands too, Steph said “we opened it up to anyone who wanted to join us!” It was great hearing a communities story from the community itself! I soon had a coffee and a huge bit of cake and was sat down with people chatting to me, and was impressed by their warmth and hospitality.
Another thing I loved was the ‘indiginous’ feel of this community, sadly too often Churches do not look like the community they are situated in. I remembered planting our Church “All Souls, Southey Park”, remembering seeing on our first service people coming in shirts and ties the a couple of years later looking around at people in football shirts and with tattoos, and realised we were embodying our vision of being a local church for local people, as I loved hearing people chat to one another with a Brizzle accent!
What is found remarkable about the amazing guys at Hay Mills was not actually what they did, which is normally what we talk about, but who they were and how they did it!
Their story is that they managed to acquire from the Congregational Church a disused Church building next door to a residential home for adults with learning difficulties. Steph, the Pastor, and Jane, his wife, boldly stepped into an unknown future with great faith, Jane began a toddler group.
Mother Teresa spoke of “doing small things with great love” and this was something I felt, this was not just “doing some chaplaincy” or “running a toddler group” but meeting, welcoming, befriending and loving people, these activities were catalysts for relationships and friendships, they were sharing their lives with people sacrificially and beautifully.
Steph the Pastor said that he didn’t find being a people person easy, a brave and vulunerable thing to share, but in this vulnerability others shared about health and other difficulties they faced but in sharing this they were pointing to a God who uses us as we are for his glory. This is a very special community.
They shared their story of Sunday worship which was designed to be both accessable and bespoke for the community but Steph was also clear on his desire to allow people to clearly hear the message of Jesus in an accessable way they could understand and respond too!
Just then another guy walked in, he was a newer Church member, having encountered Christ in a dream which drew his (and then his family) to Church. He was wanting to learn and teach, and found his enthusiasm infectious, and was excited to see this new Christian hungry to learn and to share and being mentored and encouraged by this community.
I also was reminded of a friend who came to Alpha having encountered Jesus in a dream which lead him to explore further about who Jesus was. Important to remember that God is an evangelistic God, who reached out and encounters people, including through supernatural means such as dreams, rather than it all resting on our own Missional efforts.
In the conversation this guy mentioned that they had had ten baptisms in the last eighteen months, real people largely from outside the churchy culture becoming Christians and working out their faith in the context of a discipleship community.
Although this Church maybe small and hidden away in a corner of Birmingham it has much to teach us about radical hospitality, incarnational living and allowing the missional God to transform the lives of local people.