In ministry training, ordinands are sent off to distant lands to discover for themselves what ministry may offer and what issues they may encounter in the future. I am no different and have recently been to Gotham City. There I was supervised by 2 ministers: Brad and Anjolie, both still youthful (that’s what they told me to write) and have lots of experience in ministry. As a guest blogger, permit me to explain what I discovered whilst on placement.
Trees. Yes there are trees in Birmingham (and canals) but they have no many more trees in Gotham City and they stretch for miles and miles. There are many towns and villages near to Gotham City: some are extraordinary affluent whereas others are still struggling post the collapse of a significant industry. The promised renewal of industrial investment has still to arrive or those once-scarred fields have been replaced with solar farms, not exactly brimming with the promised new jobs.
My schedule was packed and please not for one minute think that I was bored on placement! Far from it! I have not pawsed for one minute. I may have had a few naps (here’s one of me dozing) but that’s what bears do!
I visited the toddlers sessions where families pop along to, so that the children can play but importantly for, predominantly, Mums to chat and for them to speak of their story. I think that is an important part of Toddler sessions, where possibly (probably) (undoubtedly) tired parents can speak what may be troubling them and be listened to. Nevertheless, although it occurs in Church where is Church here?
Brad is also a star with puppets. He organises puppet shows which tell Bible stories. They use them in Messy Church. They run these Messy Churches across the many churches in Gotham City, usually once a month in each church. Children and a parent come along, register and get stuck into activities. These activities involve sticking, glueing (repeat advisory related to fur) and making things which fit in with the story. They sing a song, usually one which involves jumping up and down, and then they get stuck into the sandwiches and cakes! Warning: jam sandwiches and fur do NOT mix. It struck me, as I tried to separate the glue and the jam, whether we are directing Messy Church at the adults or the children or even, bravely, both? Although it occurs in Church where is Church here?
I spent a lot of time in a Food Bank. This team of volunteers, having spent 4 years together is a tight-knit group of supporters who are very knowledgable about the operation and how to effectively support folk. I learnt that one local food bank closed recently because people didn’t go to it. It would seem that it was located right in the middle of the village and all could seemingly see who was attending. In the one I attended it was at one end of the village. I did like it that people were greeted, welcomed with a cuppa and the offer of a sandwich. But better still there were people who could listen to their story, and as it was in a church, offer prayer if they wanted prayer. One chap said to me that they had so appreciated the person willing to listen, not to tell them what to do, but to be available. People were coming back, not to get another food parcel but to speak of successes in their life or for a chat and a cuppa. Nevertheless, although it occurs in Church, is this Church?
Although I’m fairly old I was also allowed out to accompany the Street Pastors. Wow Gotham City is huge, busy, vibrant and full of so many people. Many wanted to be out celebrating but many whom I spoke to wanted to tell someone that they were struggling – were they out ‘on the town’ to commiserate?
(Fur is not good as a Street Pastor, other than keeping people warm – but in July and with these hot nights?? I needed some water proof leggings me feels.) We met up with the homeless and chatted. They certainly knew of the Street Pastors and of their role. Nevertheless, although the vast majority knew that the Street Pastors were from Church, is this Church? [I have been advised that Street Angels also exist]
What is the principal tool I have in my spiritual toolkit?
In Gotham City, as I have just alluded, there are significant numbers of homeless people. Consequently, there are soup kitchens (weren’t they from the 19th Century?) which provide … well soup, masses of sandwiches and cuppas. I ‘made’ up gallons of tomato, vegetable and chicken soup, with pasta on the side if they wanted. The vast majority of the food comes from supermarkets (“Every Little Helps”) and with ‘FairShare’ cakes and loaves of bread were on offer to feed people. It would seem that there are many soup kitchens across Gotham City so that each night there are one of these centres open. It was great to see Framework visit one night to speak with those visiting and try to further coordinate their journey away from a life of being homeless. I wondered whether those who did visit the soup kitchen saw it as a church providing unconditionally or a centre for hot food? Where is church here?
On Sundays, I put on my best uniform – actually I only have one decent set as my other clothing is a Manchester United kit when I was much, much younger. Leading worship enabled me to see the passion in prayer from the congregations, the delight when worshipping and also that yearning for wholeness during the midweek healing services. Brad mentioned often that people felt that they belonged to ‘this’ church or ‘that’ church. Brad and Anjolie worked together so they shared the churches in their midst, offering an identity of a ‘section’ and not disparate churches. However, people often still spoke of an identity to one particular church in a village or part of Gotham City. As we had celebrated Pentecost recently I pawsed again to look at that account.
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Acts 2:2
Of course there were no churches back then, synagogues yes but the emergent Christian faith, ‘The Way’, was yet to be born (see Acts Chapter 11 for that). The Spirit seemed to bring them together with a new identity.
Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”
These people attending worship in this house appear to be from so many different countries, and they were as of one. Perhaps we try but struggle to have cohesive groups based upon geography but may work better in terms of sociology?
Whom does this Spirit call?
For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” Acts 2:39
Those children and parents in the toddlers group, both children and parent within Messy Church, for the homeless, for those celebrating and/or commiserating ‘out on the town’, for those struggling to survive financially and need food parcels, all are called in love.
I still wonder whether we could allow people to see the spiritual more within: Toddlers groups and Messy Church, making it church for them but not a replica of Sunday morning; within the Food Bank, although I think they are already on the journey; and Street Pastors where that jump between social action and the spiritual may still need to be crossed.
My body isn’t designed to get my paws together but that doesn’t stop me from praying.
It is the principal tool I have in my spiritual toolkit.
Hence, from my placement, I have found that I can offer prayer to those who struggle.
But won’t that offend people?
It is speaking honestly of my faith. I believe that prayer is vital and a key aspect of my relationship with our amazing God. Who wouldn’t want to share that? When asked senstitively, if people say no then I’ll listen and pray for them, seek God’s blessing upon them, quietly afterwards, privately. If our faith is THAT important then we do need to speak of what makes us tick, allow people to see how important that relationship is with our God and, by demonstrating prayer openly, lovingly and without huge expansive liturgy, offer them a way a model for themselves to pray.
I noticed how in one conversation I asked whether they believed in God.?
“No”, came the response.
Do you believe in prayer?
“Yes” they said.
So we prayed, asking for a blessing upon them by name and then asking for God to bring peace and healing for whatever they need. It didn’t take long. No eyes were closed just prayer.
Well I have done 5 weeks of placement and I’m home for a rest. Is it time for hibernation again? How do these ministers keep going?
Through God’s strength.
Perhaps I’ll try that as well.