“She ran her race well!” the curate said at the start of the service.
I was staying at my friends Simon and Elizabeth Cartwright in Normanton in Derby as part of my activist pilgrimage.
On the Saturday I had done a workshop on talking about Jesus and our faith in a normal and natural way and everyone seemed chatty and upbeat. Then as we were clearing up Simon got a message on his phone, and I could tell by his face that something was very wrong. One of his congregation, a lady called Anne, who was in hospital having an operation was very ill, probably dying. I was the only person who did not know this lady but clearly she was loved as the atmosphere changed completely, everyone huddled around and they prayed for her, yet sadly later that day she passed away.
I had been speaking of being an indigenous disciple, part of the culture, community and context, and being people that grasp the opportunities God gives us, where-ever and when-ever they are. I even spoke about how sometimes they are in unlikely places.
The curate continued speaking of this ladies amazing faith and personality, about even though she had to have regular dialysis she would often talk to the other patients about her faith in Jesus with refreshing normality and warmth.
Later in the service I had the opportunity to speak briefly about the School of Mission, about our desire to see “every Christian in the UK to feel comfortable and confident I sharing their faith in Christ Jesus with deeds and words with wisdom and sensitivity under the leadership of the Holy Spirit” and it felt like this woman, Anne, who I had never met was someone who embodied this courageous missional normality with great love and sincerity. Sometimes we need role models and people who flesh out virtues, and show us how concepts and ideas look when they are actually applied to peoples’ lives and seen in ‘real life’.
As I looked around, feeling a bit of an intruder to a communities’ grief, I saw people of all ages, different races and social classes, putting their arms around each other, passing tissues and hankies around, holding hands and loving one another. “This is what Church ought to look like” I thought realizing that so often we think of healthy communities where everyone is happy and everything is sorted, but actually it is in times of hardship, pain and tragedy that often the true caliber of a community is seen. Jesus said “by this will all people know that you are my disciples that you love one another” often this verse is an uncomfortable challenge or stern rebuke as we know that we, and our communities, do not love one another as we should, but here it felt like an illustration of the truth lived out in front of my eyes.
I wondered about myself, when I die will people say of me “he ran his race well”, sadly this is a compliment that can only be used for a few special people, yet I long for this phrase to be applicable to us all.
I thought too of this lady, Anne, -who I never met- leaving this gap in the community, and thought that her legacy will live on, people will remember her, talk about her, and her story of who she was will encourage those who are here running their races to keep on going, to live out their faith in their ordinary everyday lives, grasping the opportunities to speak of Jesus. Yet wondered too, whether this Anne’s clear love for Jesus and for people was fashioned and shaped by being part of a community where clearly there was a lot of love as part of the day to day DNA of their life shared together.
I wondered if we want great evangelists to emerge perhaps we need loving, committed, healthy church families to nurture and develop them?